YANQING, China (Reuters) – Switzerland’s Beat Feuz won gold in a thrilling men’s downhill at the Beijing Winter Games on Monday while 41-year-old Frenchman Johan Clarey became the oldest Olympic medallist in Alpine skiing with silver.
Feuz, winner at Kitzbuehel last month, powered down the steep slopes of ‘The Rock’ in 1:42.69, with Clarey in the silver medal position just 0.10 behind.
The 34-year-old Feuz won bronze in downhill and silver in super-G four years ago at Pyeongchang but his determined and skilful run finally brought him gold.
“It was perfect weather, no wind, and I was just standing perfectly on the skis. A dream came true,” Feuz told reporters.
“The Olympics are a big thing, and today it worked for me. Four years ago I was second and third, but today everything came together. It means the world to me.
“I can’t think of anything more beautiful than flying home with a gold medal around my neck.”
It was a fine day for veterans of the sport, with Clarey replacing Bode Miller as the oldest Olympic medallist in Alpine skiing. Miller won bronze in super-G at the 2014 Sochi Games aged 36.
Austria’s Matthias Mayer, who won gold medals at the past two Games, had to settle for bronze this time.
There was no medal for Norway’s Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, the World Cup downhill leader and pre-Games favourite, who was 0.51 behind Feuz in fifth place.
“I had high expectations for sure. It’s been a great season and in the Olympics, when you stand there as a favourite, you want to deliver,” said the Norwegian, whose girlfriend Mikaela Shiffrin also suffered a disappointing day, crashing out in the first run of the giant slalom.
ONE LAST CHANCE
The downhill had originally been scheduled for Sunday before being postponed due to high winds, but the weather obliged and the race on the artificial snow certainly delivered.
There was an early shock when the second skier in the race, Germany’s Dominik Schwaiger, had to be taken off the course on a stretcher after crashing heavily.
Schwaiger caught an inside edge and rolled down through the safety netting. The German was attended to by medical staff before being placed on a stretcher.
The race resumed after a stoppage of around 10 minutes and Mayer showed no signs of being affected by the crash, soon grabbing the lead, as he looked to become the first man to win gold at three straight Games.
But Feuz had different ideas, as he produced a superb run to claim top spot.
Clarey, who has never won a World Cup race, then threatened to produce one of the biggest shocks in Alpine skiing history but just missed out on a remarkable gold.
“I was pushing, pushing, taking a lot of risk. I knew I only had one chance left in my career to get a medal in the Olympics,” said Clarey.
“Today I was fast. Not enough for the gold but silver is just my happiness. When you are a medallist (whether) you are 20 or 41 it doesn’t matter, it’s just an Olympic medal. It’s already a good memory”.
There was a fine result for Canada’s James Crawford, yet to stand on the podium in the World Cup, who finished in fourth place 0.23 off Feuz’s winning time.
“I definitely couldn’t have executed much better than I did,” said Crawford. “I had a couple of mistakes, but ski racing isn’t about perfection, it’s just about who can be in the finish and be the fastest. I couldn’t have done much more today.”
The men’s speed races continue with super-G on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Simon Evans, additional reporting by Shadia Nasralla, Natalie Thomas, Editing by Peter Rutherford)