Innerhofer holds off Svindal, claims World Cup downhill victory
BEAVER CREEK, Colo. (AP) -- Christof Innerhofer could barely train in the offseason because of his chronically aching back.
After this performance, the Italian skier was wondering if he should ever train again.
Innerhofer effortlessly glided through the demanding Birds of Prey course Friday for his first World Cup downhill victory in nearly four years.
To accomplish that, he needed to hold off Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal, who has lately looked almost unbeatable. Innerhofer finished in 1 minute, 41.69 seconds, beating Svindal by 0.23 seconds. Svindal's teammate, Kjetil Jansrud, was third.
"I shouldn't train - maybe I should just take a holiday," the charismatic Innerhofer said, laughing. "I'm crazy happy right now, because I really can't believe it."
His back has been so irritating that he has only been on the slopes for a handful of practice runs since September. He took some painkillers before the race to calm it down. Following his run, he found something that worked even better - the euphoria of a win.
"It was an amazing run," said the 27-year-old Innerhofer, who grew up idolizing Italian great Alberto Tomba. "I took all the risks, more straight lines, just like in training."
These days, skiing more swiftly than Svindal is quite a feat. Svindal was coming off two straight wins in Lake Louise, Alberta, last weekend and showed no signs of slowing down all week in training, even winning the practice run the day before the race.
But Svindal made two big mistakes on his run, which cost him valuable time.
"I knew that Innerhofer had been crazy fast," said Svindal, who started nine spots after Innerhofer. "So you know it's going to take risks to catch him and also a clean run. It wasn't very clean."
On this course nearly five years ago, Svindal was involved in a horrific crash in a training run. The 29-year-old broke his nose and cheekbone, when he lost control over a jump and landed on his back. He slid into the fencing but not before passing over one of his razor-sharp skis, which gave him a six-inch laceration on his left buttock, a cut that had doctors so concerned they went into his stomach to make sure everything internally was still intact.
Does that day still stick with him?
"It doesn't," Svindal said. "It's another race, actually. That's what it needs to be in order to be fast."
While Innerhofer really had no pressure, Svindal felt quite a bit. All eyes were watching him, to see what he would do. Fellow competitors were even kidding with him in the start house, because he's been so fast of late.
"You do get the jokes: `What, do you have rockets under your feet?"' Svindal said. "You get a lot of attention. I want attention once I cross the finish line and can have a good time. I don't need it at the start.
"But that comes with the job. You're skiing really fast and everyone's watching. You get a lot of those comments and that adds to the pressure."
Defending champion Bode Miller didn't compete as he recovers from offseason surgery on his left knee. Instead, the American watched the race from a chair near the finish line.
Miller said there's still no timetable for a return to the slopes and he won't hurry to get back, either. He's taking a cautious approaching.
"It still hurts now. So, we're on hold," Miller told The Associated Press. "It's one of those things where I don't want to rush it. When we're ready, we're ready. Then, we'll go."
Even with Miller not climbing into the starting gate for the race, the American still received plenty of attention. All the questions about his counterpart seemed funny to Svindal.
"Bode would for sure have been one of the best guys here today. But the fact is he's not here," Svindal said. "I don't worry about him, to be honest."
No, just Innerhofer, who couldn't be caught on this afternoon. Innerhofer looked like he did that week nearly two years ago at the world championships in Germany, when he won three medals, including gold in the super-G.
That produced his nickname of "Winnerhofer."
"I was really relaxed today, just like at world championships. I felt the same, like there," said Innerhofer, who has been bothered by the sore back since January. "I think what was different today was I enjoyed it much more, because I skied so much less in the summer. Skiing is my life. That's what I need to be happy."
The top American was Travis Ganong, who was 1.38 seconds behind Innerhofer in 16th place. Tobias Stechert of Germany hurt his left knee on his run and had to be carted down on a sled. He was being taken for an MRI at a local hospital.
In all, there were eight skiers who didn't finish the tricky course.