Guay wins downhill title at worlds, Miller 15th
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany – The Canada ski team was a flop at the Vancouver Olympics. Erik Guay made sure it was a different story at the world championships.
Guay won the prestigious downhill title Saturday ahead of pre-race favorites Didier Cuche of Switzerland and Christof Innerhofer of Italy, speeding down the 3.3-kilometer Kandahar course in 1 minute, 58.41 seconds.
Bode Miller also charged down the course, but was at a disadvantage as the 22nd starter in warm conditions on a deteriorating course. He finished 15th and 2.42 seconds behind the winner.
When Guay crossed the line, Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” blared over the loudspeakers. It turned out to be an appropriate tune as one favorite after another failed to match the 29-year-old from Mont-Tremblant, Quebec.
“This is the best feeling in the world,” said Guay, who wore bib No. 10 to start ahead of most top racers. “It’s really amazing. Some of the best skiers in the world came down after me, but my time stood.”
Miller made an error near the beginning of his run, nearly touching his hip to the ground to regain his balance. He appeared to stand up out of his tuck on the lower section, perhaps already aware he was far off the pace.
“It’s disappointing, but some days in ski racing there’s just not much else you can do,” Miller said. “Maybe I could have tucked more, but that’s not going to make up 2 1/2 seconds. I felt like I gave it everything.”
Miller was impressed by Guay’s nearly flawless run.
“You’ve got to be soft on your edges and you’ve got to be real smooth, and Erik is the best in the world at that,” Miller said. “He’s shown it before, and I’m proud of him. It was a great run.”
The top American finisher was Steven Nyman, who celebrated his 28th birthday by finishing 13th. The crowd sang “Happy Birthday” in the finish area and the skier from Sundance, Utah, gave a bow.
“That was cool,” Nyman said. “I skied the Olympics on my birthday once, but there was a lot of people down here today.”
Guay had a touching moment after the race, accepting flowers from 1976 two-time Olympic champion Rosi Mittermaier. Cuche and Innerhofer raised Guay’s arms as he sang along to “O Canada.”
That scene never developed at the Alpine venue in Whistler last year. The highly touted home ski team failed to win a single Olympic medal among the men and women.
“Vancouver was a whole different animal – it was a big event that we did not perform as well as we had hoped to,” Canada head coach Paul Kristofic said. “I think we learned some good lessons there and experienced pressures we’ll probably never feel again. But I think we came out stronger, especially for big events. It sort of sharpened our focus on these world champs and the next Olympics.”
Guay is the second consecutive Canadian winner of the world downhill title after 2009 champion John Kucera, who is recovering from breaking his left leg last season. They are the only Canadians to win the title.
The Canada men’s team has been hit with major injuries over two seasons. Guay dedicated his victory to the injured racers on his team, including Manuel Osborne-Paradis.
“Our team has gone through hard times,” Guay said. “So this title is also for them, who are recovering. They will be back.”
Guay won three career World Cup races – two of them on the same course in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. His last win came at a super G in March last year, which earned him the discipline’s crystal globe.
Cuche, who won the past two World Cup downhills prior to the worlds – in Kitzbuehel, Austria, and Chamonix, France – came close to beating Guay as he led the Canadian by 0.23 at the first intermediate time.
However, Cuche went wide on a couple of turns and lost pace going into the final section and finished 0.32 behind Guay.
Cuche earned his country its first medal after Swiss racers placed fourth in three previous races at the worlds – Cuche and Lara Gut in super G and Dominique Gisin in super-combined.
“I am very glad with this result,” Cuche said. “Before the start, I knew it would be hard to get into the top three.”
Innerhofer started ninth and trailed Guay by 0.76 to finish third.
High temperatures softened the snow on the slope, which earlier in the week had been described by many racers as too icy and too bumpy.
“This proves that I am also fast if it’s not very icy,” Innerhofer said. “We trained a lot on soft snow in the last couple of years.”
Michael Walchhofer, the last Austrian to win the men’s downhill world title in 2003, competed in his last major race before retiring at the end of the season. The 35-year-old Austrian wasn’t clean from the start and finished seventh.
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There might be part of Hailey Swirbul that is finally beginning to believe she belongs. The 22-year-old cross-country skier is coming off quite a stretch with the U.S. ski team, one that includes her first career World Cup podium and a successful go in the notorious Tour de Ski stage race.