Sunday, February 9, 2014

Matthias Mayer wins skiing's blue riband for Austria on Sochi's super Sunday

Austria's Matthias Mayer kicked off Sunday's eight gold medal program in Sochi with an upset victory in the men's downhill skiing competition, the blue riband event of the Winter Games.

The 23-year-old recovered from a slow start on the treacherous piste at Rosa Khutor to claim victory with a time of two minutes 06.23 seconds.

Italian Christof Innerhofer took silver, just six-hundredths of a second behind, with Norway's Kjetil Jansrud claiming the bronze.

Pre-race favorites Bode Miller of the United States and world downhill champion Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway, finished eighth and fourth respectively.

The 36-year-old Miller, in his final Olympics, had been quickest in two training runs, but mistakes on the middle section of the course, cost him dear.

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"I feel disappointed. I skied hard and well, and that's the most important thing. It just didn't go all right," he said.

By contrast, Mayer, who chose the perfect moment to win his first major downhill competition, was in dreamland.

"This is unbelievable. I thought maybe in a few years I could dream of this sort of achievement. It was really cool and my family will be excited," was his assessment.

Mayer's father Helmut won a silver medal in the super-G discipline at Calgary in 1988 and his son had a pre-race premonition he could go one better.

"I woke up this morning and I knew that I could win this race. I was smiling the whole day, all throughout the inspection. It was my day today," he added.

The alpine skiing hotbed of Austria has not produced an Olympic downhill champion since Fritz Stroebl in the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City and Mayer is following in the footsteps of legends such as Franz Klammer, the 1976 gold medalist in Innsbruck.

Innerhofer looked like spoiling the Austrian party as he bettered Mayer's time in the upper sections, but he narrowly missed out in one of the tightest finishes in Olympic downhill history.

"It has been a big dream for me to win a medal at the Olympic Games, so I can't really believe it," admitted a stunned Innerhofer. "I couldn't be happier."

Svindal, so dominant on the World Cup circuit, was distraught to finish outside of a podium places by just 0.19 seconds. "It is pretty much the worst place to be. I've been there before and probably will be again," the 31-year-old said.

Svindal took silver in the downhill in Vancouver 2010 behind Switzerland's Didier Defago, who was only 14th in his title defense in Sochi.

On a frenetic day of competition, attention switched from the most traditional of alpine skiing events to the exciting new discipline of snowboard slopestyle with Jamie Anderson completing a double for the United States.;jsessionid=46D4B609DBF2B4F6A4471D30DF27681A

Her teammate Sage Kutsenburg won the men's event Saturday and she followed it up with a superb display in the women's final.

Her massive score of 95.25 proved a class apart with Finland's Enni Rukajarvi in second place on 92.50 with Britain's Jenny Jones taking the bronze.

The third gold medal of the day went to Dario Cologna, who won the Skiathlon 15km classic/15km freestyle event in Nordic Skiing.

Cologna suffered an ankle injury at the start of the season and did not race until last month, but it did not prevent the Swiss, who won gold in the 2010 Winter Games, doubling up.

"It's great -- a dream come true. The second gold after Vancouver. It's very special," he said.

Hosts Russia were aiming for their first gold of the Games in the figure skating competitions later Sunday, but at least managed to get on the medals table on the second day of finals as Olga Graf took bronze in the women's 3,000m speed skating.

Ireen Wust maintained the early Dutch dominance in speed skating at Sochi by taking gold from silver medalist Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic.

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