Second World Cup win for Andrej Jerman
Bormio, Italy - men's downhill
Besides clinching gold in a major medal event, downhillers dream to excel on the toughest classical courses such as the Lauberhorn at Wengen and the Streif at Kitzbühel. In recent years, it also became trendy for speed specialists to achieve remarkable performances on the treacherous Stelvio run at Bormio considered by many experts as the most challenging one on the World Cup tour.
In the short history of the New Year's Eve Race that has been on the men's World Cup calendar since December 1993, only a small group of established champions, mostly from Austria, France or USA, have managed to excel on the Italian slope. The list includes big names and former overall World Cup champions Luc Alphand, Hermann Maier, Lasse Kjus, Stephan Eberharter, Bode Miller, and also past world or Olympic champions such as Hannes Trinkl, Michael Walchhofer, Fritz Strobl or Daron Rahlves.
A year ago, a 24-year-old little known racer Christoph Innerhofer delivered an impressive performance to celebrate his maiden World Cup win here after a very aggressive run down the icy slope, becoming the first ever Italian winner in Bormio.
This year, another underdog was able to beat the odds and the top favorites and add his country to the list of the winning nations in Bormio: Slovene Andrej Jerman. Despite growing up in a mountainous but tiny country which does not organize FIS downhill races, the now 31-year-old Jerman became the first Slovenian World Cup downhill winner in February 2007 when he finished in front of all the top favorites at Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
He was welcomed as a true hero when returning home at Trzic, a lovely village near Bled which got famous on the World Cup tour with the numerous wins of Bojan Krizay, slalom World Cup champion in 1987. Andrej's fan club is often travelling far to support him as much as possible.
Many of its members came by bus to Bormio hoping to see Andrej confirm his strong performances in training. They didn't regret the long trip as they sang the Slovenian national anthem during the prize-giving ceremony.
A great moment for Jerman
"I'm so glad they are here, it's wonderful to share such a moment with them today," said a very emotional Jerman afterwards. "I'm proud of them and also of myself. I believe I did quite an amazing performance today, especially when you think that I got injured at my foot two weeks ago after I straddled a gate at Val Gardena," he told the press after the race.
"Fortunately I received great treatment at home in the past days which enabled me to compete here this week."
"To win once on the World Cup tour is great but to win again is huge for me. I am really pleased to have been able to confirm that my success from Garmisch-Partenkirchen was not a fluke," the Slovenian added. "I was a little nervous this morning after having skied so well and so fast in training but I was still able to give my best."
"It was definitely an advantage for me to start early, the course was in a great shape and I could cruise it down the way I wanted. It is a tough run, very bumpy and physically quite exhausting. Its a superb way for me to regain all my confidence after my difficult season start," commented Andrej, who was 3rd at Chamonix in 2008 and 4th at Kvitfjell last season.
"I really like this slope, I was 4th and 5th here is recent years. It's a good course for fighters. When you do well here, you should be able to also excel on other demanding courses as Wengen or Kitzbühel. At least this is what I aim for," added Jerman who moved up in 10th place in the downhill World Cup Start List, finding back his position among the best 15!
First season podiums in downhill for Defago and Walchhofer
Didier Defago and Michael Walchhofer, who both reached their first downhill podiums this winter, are now ready for more in the next three downhill races. "I have been pretty consistent so far this season, but it's clear that I was shooting for victory here," explained the Austrian, a two-time winner in Bormio in the two downhills in December 2006. "This is my sixth podium here, and I take it with pride but I'll fight harder in the next downhill races. I feel I can do even better at Wengen, Kitzbühel and Whistler Creekside," added the defending World Cup downhill champion.
The tall and gentle racer from Zauchensee took advantage of the disqualification of his teammate Mario Scheiber to get onto the podium before the end of the year. Scheiber, who clocked the 2nd best time in the race, was removed from the official classification after FIS officials found that the base of one of his boots was too high.
"It's a tough decision but rules are there to be followed by the teams and the skiers," commented Didier Defago who knows what he is talking about. Four years ago, he was disqualified at Val d'Isère after being the fastest in a super combined because the standing plate of one of his bindings was too also too high by 1 millimeter.
"Somebody should have checked his boots more carefully, I feel sorry for him of course, but on the other hand, Mario knows for sure he can be very fast in downhill. He will soon fight back as I did myself," added the Swiss veteran who brilliantly won the downhills at Wengen and Kitzbhel last winter.
In six weeks, Andrej Jerman will be aiming for another glorious moment at Whistler Mountain, BC, when he will be battling to become the first Slovenian Olympic champion in Alpine Skiing. So far, only skiers from major Alpine countries France, Italy, Austria and Switzerland and two US Americans have managed to capture the most prestigious gold medal awarded in Alpine Skiing. It would be time to also increase that list.