Norwegian Kilde wins race and second downhill title
Four Americans in top 20 during emotional day for U.S. team
Special to The Aspen Times
Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway dominated Saturday’s Audi FIS World Cup downhill on Aspen Mountain, beating the field by .61 seconds. But he said his excitement for a near-perfect run was matched with the thrill of defending his downhill title from 2022.
Finishing behind Kilde, whose winning time was 1:31.60, were Canadian James Crawford, 1:32.21, and bronze medalist Marco Odermatt of Switzerland, who finished with a time of 1:32.23.
Kilde, who has close ties to Aspen, started the race day by learning that his girlfriend Mikaela Shiffrin’s top-five finish at a downhill in Norway gave her enough points to win her fifth overall title.
“It’s a fantastic day, honestly; I woke up this morning and saw that she secured overall, seven races before it’s actually done. That’s quite amazing and quite inspiring and made me want to push a little bit harder today,” he said.
According to Chris Davenport, the Aspen local who was announcing the event on-site, it is all “about the hundredths, hundies count.”
While Kilde’s margin was sizable, the second and third places were separated by those hundredths that Davenport spoke of.
The top American in Saturday’s downhill was Bryce Bennett, who finished 10th with a time of 1:32.64. He was stoked and even a bit choked up. The Californian found the day to be an emotional rollercoaster.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s been a pretty bad season for me,” but one in which he learned a lot.
“I’ve been skiing really, really hard all winter long,” he said, with barely any time off. But Bennett, one of the tallest skiers on the tour, said he felt like he had regained his touch on Saturday.
“Today was the first day I felt like I could race. And it was a good feeling.”
Bennett’s teammate, Sam Morse, starting with bib 38, attacked from the back to land in 14th place. Travis Ganong, the U.S. Ski Team veteran who this week announced his retirement, landed in 17th position. Jared Goldberg finished 19th, capping a strong day for the Americans.
American Ryan Cochran-Siegle, who was denied a podium finish Friday when the race was called, finished 27th.
Sam Morse had a huge grin as he skied through the finish to an excited crowd.
“I just had three focuses in the start,” he said. “It was like tuck, aerodynamics up top and be as clean as I can down Aztec, and then like quick switches down here as the snow begins to break down and the speeds are a little off,” he said.
With his bronze medal finish Saturday, Switzerlands’ Marco Odermatt moved closer to winning the overall title.
Also on-site for the race and to provide commentary was Bode Miller, the winner of six Olympic alpine skiing medals. Just before the race, he offered insight into what the Aspen hill offers to the racers and how to use it strategically in order to be most successful.
“(This course) requires the athletes to be pretty dynamic because they have to stay in the right mindset. They have to deal with all the variables (Friday) being called just gets in your head as a racer,” he said. “But this hill has the chance for a big group of guys to potentially win.”
He added, “They just have to ski hard and take the right risks because the hill’s not, it’s not specific to a certain kind of racer. It gives everybody a fair chance.”
At the conclusion of the event, U.S. Ski Team veteran and team leader Steven Nyman skied his final race in Aspen, wearing bib 214 under a jean jacket to commemorate his 213 races prior to Saturday.
His mother Becky shed light on his career as a whole and how much she enjoyed watching her son live out his dream as a ski racer.
“This is incredibly emotional. It’s been 20 years, and it’s been a ride,” she said. “And it’s just been so fun to watch him. He’s always loved ski racing. He’s just had this passion for it. And this is what he wanted to do.”
She added, “It’s fun to see your son be able to fulfill his dream and bring so many friends along the way .… I think he’s collected friends for the last 20 years. They love him, and he loves them.”
Up-and-coming American racer River Radamus, a native of Edwards, explained what it was like to compete alongside his mentor Nyman.
“He’s sort of been the heart and soul of not just the speed team, but the national team for as long as I’ve been on it. He’s always been so inviting to the younger guys. So caring for everyone’s success,” Radamus said. “He’s been the leader that we’ve needed these last couple of decades, really. So to see him go is sad and melancholy, but I’m really excited for what else his life has to hold.”
He promised to carry on with what Nyman brought to the team and the sport.
“I want to make sure that I take the maximum from every race,” Radamus said.
The final race of the Audi FIS World Cup weekend is the men’s Super-G, which starts lower on the hill as the downhill but follows basically the same course. The race begins at 10 a.m. on Sunday.