The first chapter in what will become the reputation of the Rosa Khutor Olympic course at Krasnaya Polyana, Russia was written today (Feb. 11) with a couple of relative newcomers – Beat Feuz and Benjamin Thomsen – putting their names first and foremost.
At this time last season Swiss Feuz had no podium results to his World Cup resume’ but Saturday he got his 11th podium and fourth career win on the long and twisting Rosa Khutor.
Incredibly, it seems, second went to Canadian upstart Thomsen making his first start since working his way into the top 30 with back-to-back kick-butt starts in Chamonix, France last weekend.
Third went to Frenchman Adrien Theaux, the best speed finish for a Frenchman this season. Bode Miller rode to fourth, Carlo Janka fifth and the first Austrian across the finish was Joachim Puchner in sixth.
The Olympic course near Sochi has been much in the eye of racers and media all week as the elite of the world got their first look and made their first turns on the flanks of an incredible mountain. The only recurring complaint was about the tightness of the turns high on the course where it was said to be more super G like before opening into a more conventional downhill track.
The win was a birthday present for Feuz. “To win such a difficult downhill on my birthday is just unbelievable,” he told the press. “It is a hard course, a difficult course and it’s amazing that I won.”
The win tightened the downhill standings considerably with just two races remaining. With 100 points for the win, and just 22 for Didier Cuche’s 12th place finish and 32pts to Klaus Kroell for eighth place, Cuche now leads Kroell by 30 and Feuz by 31.
Virtually all of Feuz success has come this season. Just two of his podium results date back as far as last March when he went first and third in back to back downhills at Kvitfjell, Norway. The other nine podiums – now including three additional wins (Val Gardena super G, Wengen DH and here – have come this season.
Thomsen’s blooming is much more recent. He had been 18th in the first of those two Norwegian races at the end of last season and hadn’t put down a better Cup result until last weekend at Chamonix. The two results in France, an 11th and fifth, bumped him in among the top 30 skiers of the World. At Sochi he started 27th and came within three tenths (.27) of taking the win. In both of his Chamonix races he had been the third finishing Canadians. At Sochi he led his team. Erik Guay finished 20th and Jan Hudec 24th.
“It’s a bit overwhelming right now,” said Thomsen. “It’s awesome.”
Canadian speed coach Johno McBride said he told the 24 year old “if he was somewhat competitive on the top he could be a contender. He backed off to make a gate at the top and skied well from the mid section down.”
Thomsen said nerves played a role and that he was struggling on the top turn laden section. “At the top I was on my hip and slipping inside all over the place. When I got down onto the flats I told myself to put my head down and go for it.”
He said “When I crossed the finish line nobody raised their hands so I thought, “Oh no, I must have had a bad run,’ but then I saw my name come up. I’m still in shock.”
Miller missed the podium by .02 of a second after leading early on course and said it had been a struggle to find the right ski set-up to handle both the super G turns at the top and the bottom of the course. “The bottom of this course, there’s just not much to do. You get in your tuck, put your head down and hope your skis are running.”
And he reiterated his previous comments on the potential of the course. “The Olympic downhill has got to be the real thing,” he said. “This is boarder line obnoxious for a downhill, it’s that turny. It is tough when they have never run it before. I’m sure they’re learning as much as we are. Hopefully they figure out how to use the terrain and really make something special.
“We all have our ideas of what we like and don’t like, but the reality is a downhill should be a challenge. It should be dangerous, it should have risk. If it doesn’t challenge the athletes then you won’t see their best. If it’s not tough, then what’s the point?”
Beyond Miller the Americans were shut out of the points. Travis Ganong finished 31st and Marco Sullivan 39th while Erik Fisher and Andrew Weibrecht failed to finish and Ted Ligety declined to start. Fisher was being evaluated for a lower leg injury.