Swiss take downhill gold

15th February 2010, by Chris Gill

Murray Olympic downhill, Whistler Creekside

Murray Olympic downhill, Whistler Creekside

Switzerland has taken its first Olympic men’s downhill gold medal in 22 years, with a superb performance by Didier Defago.

The Blue Riband event finally got going at Whistler Creekside on Monday 15 February, under much improved weather conditions. Although flat light affected early starters, the sun soon appeared to improve visibility.

Veteren Swiss skier Didier Defago 32 nailed the tough Whistler course in a time of 1:54:31, just hundredths of a second ahead of Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal and US skier Bode Miller. Svindal took the silver and Miller the bronze medals. Early on, Bode Miller – starting in 8th position – set a cracking pace to take the lead before Svindal’s run sliced a tiny margin off the time. The pair had to wait some time before Defago edged into a surprise first position with a near perfect run.

As you might expect of an Olympic downhill, the race was full of upsets: top favourites Didier Cuche and Michael Walchofer both failed to take a podium position. Walchofer started well and was ahead on the top section of the course, but lost time at a section known as Coach’s Corner and was unable to claw it back in the lower section. It was a disappointing result for the Austrian team who failed to get any member onto the podium.

With Defago leading, all eyes were on Canada’s hopeful Manuel Osbourne-Paradis and Swiss racer Carlos Janka – both in with a good chance of a medal. But Paradis went too hard on the top of the course and clipped a small bump that cost him time. He eventually finished 14th. Janka made 11th position overall. Cuche’s disappointment came later down the pack, when he lost time on his run and skied into 6th place overall.

After that, there were very few contenders for the gold medal position, although Italy’s Christian Innerhofer caught Defago’s attention briefly with a storming performance on the first half of the course. A delighted Defago is the first Swiss man to take Olympic downhill gold since Pirmin Zubriggen at the Calgary Winter Olympics in 1988.

Britain’s Ed Drake finished in 38th position.

While the men’s race was taking place, the women were putting in their training runs nearby. It looks like the delays to racing have paid off for Lyndsey Vonn who seemed not to be troubled by her recent shin injury. She was leading the training run, with Britain’s Chemmy Alcott notching up an 8th place.

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