Austria's Matthias Mayer beats Bode Miller, Askel Lund Svindal in Olympic downhill
Charlie Riedel, Associated Press
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Matthias Mayer grew up in Austria admiring plenty of Alpine skiers, from his medal-winning dad, to all-time great Hermann Maier, to a couple of guys he races against these days, Bode Miller and Aksel Lund Svindal.
Unexpectedly, Mayer now can call himself something none of those others can: Olympic downhill champion.
Four years after ski-loving Austria departed the Winter Games with zero men's Alpine medals for the first time, Mayer made his nation 1-for-1 in 2014, upstaging pre-race favorites Miller and Svindal by charging down the course in 2 minutes, 6.23 seconds Sunday to win gold in the sport's premier event.
And to think: In 65 previous World Cup or world championship races, the 23-year-old Mayer never had finished first. He'd never fared better than fifth in a downhill.
"He's not an experienced guy," Austrian men's coach Mathias Berthold said, "so you never know what he's going to do."
But from the moment Mayer saw the Rosa Khutor slope in Thursday's opening training run, he sensed his Olympic debut would go spectacularly well.
"I was very self-confident this week," said Mayer, whose father, Helmut, won the super-G silver at the 1988 Calgary Games. "The turns are just right for me. And the hill is just right for me."
But just barely. He edged silver medalist Christof Innerhofer of Italy by only 0.06 seconds, and bronze medalist Kjetil Jansrud of Norway by 0.10.
Asked if he was bothered by missing out on the gold by such a slim margin, Innerhofer replied: "I'm not even thinking about that. I'm just happy to have a medal."
What about Svindal, the World Cup downhill standings leader? Or Miller, fastest in two of the three training sessions? Both won three medals at the 2010 Vancouver Games, both won two overall World Cup titles, both looked terrific in the leadup to Sunday — and neither was even the fastest man from his own country when it counted.
Norway's Svindal was fourth, 0.19 slower than Jansrud. Miller came in eighth, three spots behind U.S. teammate Travis Ganong.
"I'm disappointed to not have a better result next to my name. It's one of those days where it's hard to say where the time went, because I skied pretty well. I was really aggressive, took a lot of risk," said the 36-year-old Miller, whose five career Olympic Alpine medals are a U.S. record. "I made a couple of small mistakes, but not really mistakes that cost you a lot of time."
He was more than a half-second slower than Mayer, who started 11th of 50 racers and smiled broadly when he saw No. 15 Miller's result. Someone from the Austrian team reached over and mussed Mayer's spiky hair.
In the finish area, Miller bowed his head, then leaned over and rested his helmet on his gloves. He sat in the snow for a few moments, the very picture of resignation.
"It's tough when you have to judge yourself, because the clock doesn't really seem to judge you fairly," Miller said. "Just like I've said a million times, I'm not always so attached to the result."
He put some blame for his performance on lower visibility Sunday, when the sky was filled with thick clouds, unlike the perfectly clear training days that Miller dominated.
Mayer, Miller said, "doesn't really change if the visibility goes bad, and that was a huge advantage today. I had to change a lot from the training runs to today, just not being able to see the snow up there."
U.S. men's coach Sasha Rearick, though, hit on another point.
"It was a combination of things," Rearick said. "A little bit the weather — and wanting it too much."