KITZBUEHEL, Austria – Matthias Mayer finally managed to get over last season’s horrifying downhill crash, giving the host country a winning start to the traditional Hahnenkamm races on Friday.
The Olympic downhill champion wore a protective air bag system but still broke two vertebrae as his body slammed on an ice slope in Italy 13 months ago.
“When I returned this season, the crash was still in my head,” Mayer said. “I didn’t dare to race to the fullest. I was happy to be back but I wasn’t racing. Today was the first time that those thoughts were not there. It’s a huge step forward for me.”
Under crisp blue skies and on a fast course where racers reached speeds of up to 140 kph (87 mph), Mayer’s gutsy run of 1 minute, 11.25 seconds beat Christof Innerhofer of Italy by 0.09 seconds. Beat Feuz of Switzerland was 0.44 behind in third.
In the final super-G ahead of next month’s world championships, Aleksander Aamodt Kilde missed the podium by 0.02 seconds in fourth. Norwegian teammate Aksel Lund Svindal, who won the race last year, underwent knee surgery this week and has ended his season.
The win is Mayer’s fourth, but the first since he won two races in as many days in another Austrian resort, Saalbach, in February 2015.
“I just like home races,” he said. “It’s cool to race in Kitzbuehel, with this weather and all my fans watching. I wasn’t skiing clean from top to bottom but you can’t do that in a super-G anyway.”
No Austrian skier won the opening race of the prestigious event since Klaus Kroell in 2009. Mayer came close twice before as he finished runner-up to Svindal in 2013, and was beaten for the victory by Dominik Paris of Italy two years later.
“It’s nice that my two chamois will become a father,” Mayer said jokingly, referring to the animal-shaped trophies at the Hahnenkamm races.
Innerhofer also got back to his best following an injury. The Italian hurt his lower left leg in last month’s combined event on home snow in Santa Caterina Valfurva.
“It’s incredible,” said Innerhofer, who skipped Thursday’s second downhill training to get extra rest. “I have been sitting on the couch for three weeks, watching all the others race. But I had a good training run and I was really relaxed before the start today. My joy at the finish was immense.”
The result ended Kjetil Jansrud’s three-race unbeaten streak in super-G this season. With another win, the Norwegian would have matched the record of four straight wins set by Austrian great Hermann Maier in 1998, but he finished 0.92 off the lead in ninth.
Jansrud spoiled his chances of another win with a big mistake in the first part of his run, when he struggled to keep his balance.
“After that I was racing pretty OK,” the Norwegian said. “I have to accept it. Such a mistake can happen. Matthias raced beautifully. He deserves the win.”
Jansrud remained in the lead of the discipline standings, 137 points ahead of Paris, who was sixth in Friday’s race. Kilde is three more points behind in third.
Four-time overall champion Marcel Hirscher, who rarely competes in speed races, finished 1.80 off the lead in 24th, and extended his overall lead by seven points to 288 over Henrik Kristoffersen of Norway.
The classic downhill on the Streif course is scheduled for Saturday.
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