The two big guns on the men’s downhill at the Sochi Olympics – Bode Miller and Aksel Lund Svindal – fell silent on Sunday, allowing three lesser-ranked skiers to storm the podium.
The Games’ premier speed-racing event was won by Matthias Mayer of Austria, who was ranked 11th in the world cup standings, with silver going to Italy’s Christof Innerhofer. Kjetil Jansrud of Norway captured the bronze.
The best place among the four Canadians who competed went to Erik Guay, who was tenth. He finished 0.81 seconds behind the leader a very tight race. Only one-tenth of a second separated bronze from gold.
Svindal, of Austria, was the favourite going into the Olympics that was being billed as a shoot-out between him and Miller of the United States. At 36 Miller, who won three medals in the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, is almost certainly competing in his last Olympics and was looking strong and sounding cocky in recent days. He won two of the three pre-race training runs and had emerged as the man to beat.
It appears Miller, who finished eighth, may have been felled by a bad case of the nerves. “Before the race, Bode told me that he was really nervous, but I was looking forward to the race and I think that was an advantage,” Mayer said.
Mayer obviously played a clever strategic game. “Bode was unbelievable yesterday [in the training run] and everyone knew that Bode could be the Olympic winner today,” he said at a press conference after the race. “But I knew in the last two intermediate times, I can be very fast. Therefore I stopped my training yesterday and saved some power for today.”
Mayer, who is only 23, becomes the youngest gold medalist in this event in 34 years. He is the son of Helmut Mayer, who won silver in the super G event in the Calgary 1988 Olympics.
But it was Innerhofer, who missed gold by a mere 0.06 of a second, the narrowest margin in 20 years, who was the big surprise among the three medalists. His silver handed Italy the first Olympic medal in the men’s downhill in 38 years. A super G specialist, he was ranked 13th in the world cup standings.
The Canadians’ performance was mediocre at best. Benjamin Thomsen churned out the second-best result, after Guay, with a 19th place finish. Jan Hudec came 21st and Manny Osborne-Paradis was 25th among the 47 men who completed the race.
Guay said he was disappointed even though the finish times among the top ten competitors was exceedingly narrow. “There was a couple of mistakes here and there,” he said. “I could have cleaned up, but even then I don’t think it would have been a winning run even without those mistakes…I think there’s a little something missing in my skiing that I need to pick up.”
Guay said he found himself getting “impatient [on some turns], dipping inside and losing that outside ski just a tad. That translates into tenths of a second on every turn and that builds up.”
Guay has 21 world cup podiums – a record for a Canadian – but lacks an Olympic medal.
But the Sochi games are far from over, leaving plenty of opportunities for a podium finish. Four medal events remain: the super combined downhill and slalom, the super-G, the giant slalom and the slalom.
“I’m disappointed,” he said. “I’m a veteran and I’ve been through this before. Give me a couple of hours and I’ll snap out of it and refocus. I think I have a good chance in the super G.”