After a protracted wait some of the greatest names in the history of men’s speed skiing are primed to kickstart the Audi FIS Ski World Cup speed season in Lake Louise (CAN) 25-27 November.
From double defending World Cup speed champion Aleksander Aamodt Kilde (NOR) to the record-setting Beat Feuz (SUI) via serial Olympic speed gold medal winner Matthias Mayer (AUT), fans inside Canada’s famous Banff National Park are in for a real treat.
Will King Kilde reign supreme?
Earlier this year Norway’s national team conditioner Daniel Tangen described Kilde as the “perfect athlete” and a “freak of nature”. His charge more than lived up to those labels last season winning three downhill and four super-G races to comfortably claim both crystal globes.
The 30-year-old’s physical conditioning played a major role in inspiring his miracle season, particularly given he suffered a serious knee injury in early 2021. Kilde, whose power to speed and fitness ratio increased significantly during rehab from that injury, finally hit his long-term goal to be consistent across a season. The Norwegian finished inside the top 10 in 16 of his 18 speed races last time out.
Given this and his current state of mind – Kilde told FIS recently that “it’s easy to stand at the start and enjoy the life of a skier because it’s flipping awesome” – the champion must remain the man to beat when racing gets under way with the first downhill of the new campaign on 25 November.
Olympic and world champions poised to challenge
The man whose downhill title Kilde took has certainly not gone anywhere. The 35-year-old Feuz is arguably one of the greatest ever men’s downhillers and his 13th season on tour was typically impressive. Not only did he win the Olympic downhill gold in Beijing and finish second in the overall downhill standings, but he also broke a long-standing record for the most men’s downhill World Cup podium places ever (47).
After claiming the downhill crystal globe four times in a row from 2018 to 2021, the Swiss skier is chasing a fifth crown to equal the great Franz Klammer’s record mark.
Mayer, who finished ahead of third-placed Feuz and compatriot Vincent Kriechmayr (AUT) on Lake Louise’s World Cup downhill slopes a year ago, could be the one to deny him. No one has a better recent record on the biggest stages of all than Austria’s 2014 downhill and 2018 and 2022 super-G Olympic champion.
Somewhat surprisingly Mayer has never won a crystal globe but, having also triumphed in Lake Louise three years ago, in the super-G, he looks well set to get his latest campaign off to another good start.
A repeat Austrian downhill one-two in Lake Louise remains a strong possibility too. The double 2021 speed world champion Kriechmayr may not have quite hit his very best form last season but he did claim three World Cup wins in early 2022 and is a threat every time he slips the long skis on.
While the same could not always be said of Marco Odermatt at the beginning of his career, the Swiss man is now an undeniable speed star. The reigning overall World Cup champion has finished top of the super-G podium four times during the past three years and had his eye on super-G standings winner Kilde right up until the latter stages of last season.
Winner of the only men’s 2023 World Cup race so far – October’s giant slalom in Sölden (AUT) – Odermatt has also shown real progress in the downhill. The 25-year-old finished second in four downhill World Cup races last season and a first win cannot be far away.
Age and experience a potent combination
In contrast, the 33-year-old Dominik Paris (ITA) has been winning World Cup downhill races since 2012 and with victories in Bormio (ITA) and Kvitfjell (NOR) last season, he is showing little sign of slowing down.
As consistent as anyone on the tour, the Italian has won at least once in nine of the past 10 seasons. Johan Clarey (FRA) would no doubt love just one of those wins but the evergreen Frenchman, yet to triumph in 20 World Cup seasons, has more than made his own mark in the history books.
In January of this year the 41-year-old broke his own record as the oldest man to finish on a World Cup podium when he grabbed 2nd in the downhill in Kitzbuehel (AUT). After asserting last season that he “still believes” and “often feels 30” the Beijing 2022 Olympic downhill silver medallist goes again.
Tune in to watch him and the rest of the best go head-to-head.