One has helped Switzerland put an end to the 18-year-long medal draught and the other has matched Kristian Ghedina and Franz Klammers medal record on the Saslong: ...
four gold medals each. We are talking about Silvan Zurbriggen (SUI) and Michael Walchhofer (AUT) who continue to fuel the competition between the two skiing nations Austria and Switzerland.
The rivalry between Switzerland and Austria is as old as the history of the ski World Cup itself. 517 victories is what the Swiss have earned thus far, the Austrians 749. And each year, the ski World Cup on the Saslong offers yet another stage for the two nations to compete. 59 World Cup races have been won by the Austrians, 17 by the Swiss. And that is why other nations just have to content themselves with leftovers. Things weren’t much different this year.
The eternal duel ends with a tie
Switzerland and Austria have shared the stage with each nation taking home a gold medal from the ski World Cup weekend in Gardena-Gröden and also sharing in the other six podiums with the exception of two medals. In the Super-G, Stephan Keppler captured silver just in time to get his nation fired up for the upcoming World Championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The French had to satisfy themselves with a sixth place by Guillermo Fayet which he reached with bib 49. This wasn’t just a good result, but also a very welcome one after David Poisson had a spectacular fall on the Camel Humps and Johan Claret landed in the safety nets on the Ciaslat meadow. Luckily both accidents looked worse than they actually ended up being. Also the Italian team ended up physically intact yet mentally tattered. While clocking the training run’s best time, Christof Innerhofer along with his team mates ended up far from the leading field in both races on the Saslong.
Walchhofer’s fourth gold medal
The Super-G confirmed that despite age, Michael Walchhofer still belongs to the top. The competition was no match for this experienced Austrian athlete. He clocked a winning time of 1:34.55 minutes ahead of Stephan Keppler (GER, +67/100 seconds) and Erik Guay (CAN, +81/100 seconds). This was his fourth victory on the Saslong. During the race, all eyes were on Stephan Keppler who performed a sensational race with bib 7 setting a time that was (almost) out of reach for the rest of the skiers. Particularly in light of the fact that visibility generally deteriorated and even a slight snow fall set in. But then Walchhofer skied well on the upper part of the course and aced the second part crossing the finish line with 67/100 seconds ahead of Keppler. This gold medal matches Walchhofer’s record with that of both Kristian Ghedina and Franz Klammer. The classic Downhill race scheduled for Saturday gave Walchhofer the perfect chance to win a fifth medal crowning himself the king of the Saslong.
Zurbriggen’s first Downhill Win
But this was not to be. It was yet another surprise winner to take home the Downhill gold on the Saslong: Silvan Zurbriggen from Switzerland who had not been on a Downhill podium before. He managed to leave the competition behind winning with the narrow margin of 6/100 seconds ahead of Romed Baumann from Austria. Zurbriggen has a special connection to the Saslong as he tore his left knee ligaments on the Camel Humps in 2007. But also for Baumann it was a first on a Downhill podium. Not so for bronze medalist Didier Cuche who already knows many Downhill podiums but still has to win the Downhill gold on the Saslong.
The ski circuit’s oldest skier Patrik Jaerbyn lead the race for the longest time. With 41 years, he is the only skier who was already born when Gardena-Gröden hosted the World Championships in 1970. The organizers invited the former World Championships to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the event. But back to the race. Dider Cuche placed ahead of Jaerbyn and started to believe that he might have captured his elusive Downhill gold on the Saslong as both Klaus Kröll as well as Michael Walchhofer were not able to beat his time. But then Zurbriggen blew Cuche’s dream of winning gold. He won silver already twice here in Gardena-Groeden but had to content himself with bronze this year. Romed Baumann squeezed in on second place with 6/100 behind Zurbriggen.
Walchhofer ended up on fifth place which while not setting new records, was still significantly better than the Italian team’s results. The practice run’s fastest Christof Innerhofer placed 1.7 seconds behind Zurbriggen which was worse than both Peter Fill and Werner Heel who still ended up outside the top ten.
Interesting fact: This is the second Zurbriggen to win on the Saslong with Pirmin Yurbriggen winning the Downhill in 1983 and the Super-G in 1989.