By Alan Baldwin
Matthias Mayer won Olympic downhill gold on Sunday to give the Austrian men’s team the perfect start to the Alpine skiing competition with the first major success of his fledgling career.
On an overcast day in Sochi when big favourites Bode Miller and Aksel Lund Svindal failed to shine, Italy’s Christof Innerhofer – so nearly living up to his ‘Winnerhofer’ tag – took the silver and Norwegian Kjetil Jansrud snapped up the bronze.
The 23-year-old Mayer, who started 11th, is the son of 1988 super-G silver medallist Helmut. His winning time of two minutes, 06.23 seconds was 0.06 faster than Innerhofer’s.
His gold medal continued an Austrian tradition of first time winners on the biggest stage of all and provided an immediate boost for a men’s team who failed to win a single medal in Vancouver four years ago.
“It’s crazy. It’s the greatest thing you can achieve as a sportsman – unbelievable,” said Mayer, who had set the quickest time in Friday training.
The last Austrian to win the downhill gold was Fritz Strobl in 2002. Compatriots Patrick Ortlieb (1992) and Leonhard Stock (1980) also took their first big career wins in the Olympic downhill.
American Miller, 36, was bidding to become the oldest man to win an Alpine gold at a Games but was left hanging his head after finishing eighth.
“It’s tough, obviously. I was looking to win,” he told reporters after a lingering kiss from his wife. “I obviously thought I had a chance in it. But it’s tough when things don’t go your way.”
The American showman had been 0.31 of a second quicker than Mayer at the second time check but then lost a heap of time in the bottom part of the course to finish in 2:06.75.
Svindal, the downhill world champion and 2010 silver medallist, was pipped to a medal by bearded compatriot Jansrud.
“I didn’t go fast enough, it was difficult at the top and I made lots of mistakes, I lost too much time and the others were too fast,” he said. “I knew it wasn’t just between me and Bode. Matthias was the fastest and he deserved to win.”