Aspen’s Wiley Maple 17th in World Cup downhill |

Aspen’s Wiley Maple 17th in World Cup downhill

Matthias Mayer of Austria heads for gold in the World Cup men's downhill Saturday in Saalbach Hinterglemm, Austria.
Giovanni Auletta / AP | AP

SAALBACH-HINTERGLEMM, Austria — Aspen’s Wiley Maple led the U.S. Ski Team downhillers Saturday, finishing a career-best 17th in a World Cup downhill in Austria.

Maple, who had a No. 46 bib/start number, rallied to his best finish on the international level.

His historic race came on a day when the Austrians dominated on home snow, sweeping the podium.

Olympic champion Matthias Mayer led an Austrian 1-2-3 finish, marking the first such sweep in nine years for the once dominant “Wunderteam.”

The feat came exactly 14 days after Austria failed to place a racer in the top 10 of the men’s downhill at the world championships in Beaver Creek for the first time in the history of the event — stretching back to 1931.

“We had a historical disaster in Beaver Creek and it’s a little revenge,” Austria’s winter sports federation president Peter Schroecksnadel said. “That’s ski sport. If it wouldn’t be that (way), it wouldn’t be interesting.”

Mayer clocked 1 minute, 49.83 seconds down the rarely used Schneekristall-Zwolfer course to finish a slim 0.02 seconds ahead of Max Franz, who led both training runs. Hannes Reichelt placed third, 0.21 behind.

It was the first Austrian sweep of a men’s downhill since January, 2006, when Hermann Maier, Klaus Kroell and Andreas Buder went 1-2-3 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.

“This success is important for the entire nation and staff,” said Reichelt, who won the super-G at worlds.

It was Mayer’s second career World Cup win, having also taken a downhill at finals last March in Lenzerheide, Switzerland — a month after his surprise win at the Sochi Games.

“I had quite a fight but it was really cool,” said Mayer, who led the Austrians in 12th in the worlds downhill. “The visibility was brutal.”

After two days of sun for the training runs, clouds moved in and visibility was difficult, leading to 12 racers failing to finish. Skiers had expressed concern over the course’s safety during training and workers smoothed over a few areas for race day.

The last men’s downhill on this course was held in 1994, making it an entirely new piste for all of the current racers.

Austria, Norway and Germany trained on the course last week. While Mayer missed those sessions, it was obvious that his teammates benefited.

“It’s not surprising. (The Austrians) trained here before and that’s a big advantage,” said downhill standings leader Kjetil Jansrud of Norway, who finished 14th. “I got to train here, too, so I should probably be up there, too. But no one ever doubted they were good skiers. I’m not surprised they’re back in the lead.”

With Vincent Kriechmayr skiing from bib No. 40 into sixth and Romed Baumann 10th, Austrians claimed five of the top 10 positions.

Women’s GS

MARIBOR, Slovenia — World champion Anna Fenninger of Austria held on to her first-run lead to win a women’s World Cup giant slalom Saturday and reduce her deficit to overall leader Tina Maze of Slovenia to 84 points.

Fenninger used a strong finish to her final run to finish in a total time of 2 minutes, 24.50 seconds and edge Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany by 0.04.

In front of her home crowd, Maze fell with only two gates left in the first leg.

Lindsey Vonn also failed to finish the opening run when the American crashed into the safety netting but escaped injuries.

Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein finished second, 0.30 behind.

Mikaela Shiffrin of Egle-Vail was third after the opening run but dropped to fifth, 0.54 off the lead.

Schroecksnadel defended the Austrians’ extra training.

“Every nation does this,” Schroecksnadel said. “It might have been a little advantage but you still have to race.”

Rules permit racers to test the course up to five days before the opening training session. But since none of the current skiers had ever raced on this course, extra training proved to be even more of an advantage than usual.

Former overall champion Carlo Janka of Switzerland finished fourth and David Poisson of France was fifth.

Struggling a day after chipping his tooth in a ragged training run, Jansrud still extended his lead in the downhill standings ahead of Italy’s Dominik Paris, who didn’t finish.

“I felt pretty good but it’s a mental game,” Jansrud said. “You know, you had a bad training run and when it gets dark with flat light you don’t see any of the ruts. I tried to ski through them but didn’t manage to put down a good run.

“It’s tough to convince yourself you can see when you can’t,” Jansrud added.

Jansrud remained second in the overall standings, 162 points behind Austrian technical specialist Marcel Hirscher, who does not race downhill.

Saalbach also hosted the 1991 world championships and is hoping to be Austria’s choice to bid for the 2021 or 2023 worlds — with St. Anton the other option.

Thousands of fans lined the course and surrounded the finish area waving Austrian flags and blaring air horns to celebrate the sweep.

It was a tough day for the top skiers on the U.S. team, as both Steven Nyman and Jared Goldberg crashed — although both escaped serious injury — and Travis Ganong did not start due to a fever.

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