Matthias Mayer's first career win is an Olympic gold
KRASNAYA POLYANA - Do not believe anyone who tries to tell you they correctly predicted the medal winners in the men's downhill at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Matthias MAYER (AUT) shrugged off the small matter of form, having not bettered fifth in a world cup downhill this season, and surged to gold in a thrilling, if unpredictable, race.
The 23-year-old Austrian finished 0.06 seconds ahead of Christof INNERHOFER (ITA) with Kjetil JANSRUD (NOR) snatching bronze. None of the three medallists have won a world cup downhill race in 2013/14.
"This is unbelieveable. I thought maybe in a few years I could dream of this sort of achievement," said MAYER, who has never previously won a major international downhill race.
Unlike all of his major rivals the Austrian lost time on the sleek upper section, but flew down the bumpy middle to finish in a time of 2 minutes and 06.23 seconds.
"I woke up this morning and I knew that I could win this race. I was smiling the whole day, all throughout the inspection. It was my day today," said MAYER.
However, MAYER was nearly forced into matching his father's Olympic silver medal, won in the super G at the Calgary 1988 Games, when INNERHOFER went 0.58 seconds up at the first split. The Italian, who has struggled this season after winning three world cup downhills in 2012/13, looked at ease on the fearsome Rosa Khutor course, remaining up on MAYER through the second and third splits. But like most of the field, he faded on the final stretch of one of the longest downhill Olympic courses ever.
INNERHOFER bellowed his delight at the finish as he won Italy's first medal since the Innsbruck 1976 Games.
"I risked so much at the top. I thought to myself, 'Come on Chris, you must push harder', so I pushed harder. I thought that if I risked a lot it could go well and it could go badly, but at least I could say after the race that I tried," said INNERHOFER.
JANSRUD was the first to indicate of the impending shock results. Racing in bib eight, the Norwegian flew down, overtaking the in-form 2010 Olympic Games giant slalom gold medallist Carlo JANKA (SUI) who had led from bib three.
The big shocks were still to come. First up Bode MILLER (USA). The 36-year-old looked loose and ragged, as is his style. Up on MAYER for both of the first two splits it looked as though the five-time Olympian was on course to become the oldest ever Olympic downhill champion but eventually the risk-taking caught up with him.
"I wanted to ski it as hard as I could and not really back off, but it required a lot of tactics today which I didn't apply. I skied hard and well, and that's the most important thing. It just didn't go all right," said MILLER.
All eyes turned to Aksel Lund SVINDAL. The giant Norwegian looked smoother than his long-time rival, MILLER, but was never able to find the speed to match the magical MAYER. The downhill world champion and current leader of the downhill world cup standings finished an agonising fourth, just out of the medal places.
"It is pretty much the worst place to be. I've been there before and probably will be again. If you want to fight for medals, you have to be prepared to lose out on them," said SVINDAL.
The last word however, must go to MAYER. He may have been unfancied and out of the limelight but it is an advantage the 2014 men's downhill Olympic champion can never use again.
"Before the race, Bode told me that he was really nervous, but I was looking forward to the race, and I think that was an advantage," said the Olympic champion.