Steven Nyman triumphs in Saslong downhill thriller

The Audi FIS Ski World Cup downhill race on the Saslong in Val Gardena-Gröden turned out to be a race for the history books. After several delays and program changes (from a two-run sprint downhill finally to a single run) the victory went to American Steven Nyman in a time of 1.28,82. For Nyman this win on the South Tyrolean course, one of the World Cup classics, was the 2nd time in his career as he first won there exactly 5 years 365 days ago.

Racing with bib number 39, Nyman benefited from better visibility as the fog that bothered most of the earlier skiers disappeared. The winner commented: “Weather was as definitely a factor today and when I heard that Rob (Perko) came down in the lead I realized that the course is fast, the door is open and you’ve got to punch it down there. I‘ve got two good results in the training runs with a 5th rank and a good history on this course. Today I found a good line and had stuck to my guns. That is just what I did. I feel comfortable in Gardena and on this type of course. I tore my achilles and took off all of last year. Another set-back happened when I broke two of my rips. I was excited to come back here and ski well. I felt comfortable. All summer long you train hard, convince yourself what you can do, lost it with a crash but then found it again here today.”

The runner-up, Slovenian Rok Perko, who raced with bib number 35, was just 0.19 seconds behind and claimed the lead in the finish 0.05 ahead of the Canadian downhill world champion Erik Guay who had held the top spot after the top-seeds with bib number 20. For Perko this is his career first World Cup podium and he was obviously happy: “My best rank so far was 12th in Kvitfjell. Today is my first time on the podium and in the top 10. I hope that this will not be my only time. Our team is still in its infancy, but we are motivated and I think on the right track. I am overjoyed with today’s result.

Guay took the lead on his arrival in the finish from the Norwegian favorites Kjetil Jansrud and Aksel Lund Svindal who still skied in the fog and ended up 4th and 5th in the final results, 0.40 and 0.45 seconds behind the winner Nyman.

Guay commented: “As long as I’m on the podium I’m still happy. For sure 1st place would have been better but 3rd is better than 4th. You have to give it to the guys from the back taking advantage of the higher start numbers. It’s an outdoor race where you can get wind, snow, anything. So I’m still happy to be on the podium.”

Kjetil Jansrud was understandably slightly disappointed: “I think conditions were not equal for everybody. The course got faster and faster for the skiers in the back. But skiing is an outdoor sport and this is certainly not the first time this happened. I can only talk for myself and I am happy with how well I skied. We worked very hard also with our hard ware and I am happy with it.”

For 32-year-old Nyman Saturday’s win is his second overall and the fourth podium in total, all of which he has collected either at Gröden or on home snow in Beaver Creek. The Park City resident has struggled with various injuries and health issues in recent years, including missing all last season due to an injury.

The result list for today’s competition saw Italy’s Werner Heel continuing his comeback winter with another good result in 6th place, his first top ten in a downhill since January 2011 in Kitzbühel, after he too benefited from a late start number (52). Heel elaborated: “I am totally happy with my 6th rank and welcome the points I earned today. My aim is to return to be in the top 15 in the speed events. We are on the right track and I am really enjoying myself again. And that is what matters most. I feel for my two team members Peter Fill and Siegmar Klotz: you could see that it just wasn’t working. They were skiing almost upright and clearing the course for the skiers behind them. But skiing is an outdoor sport and things like this can happen.”

Another comeback kid in today’s race, Canada’s Manuel Osborne-Paradis took 7th, 0.54 sec behind, in his fourth race back on the tour after injuring himself in Chamonix in January 2011. The biggest surprise however was the 8th place finish of the 21-year-old Dutch Marvin van Heek, who scored history’s first top ten for his nation on the men’s World Cup. The French-Dutch double citizen is often seen training with the French team. Meanwhile, the big teams from Austria and Switzerland must be disappointed since the best Austrian ranked 13th and the best Swiss 24th. Best Austrian, Joachim Puchner, said: “It was still snowing when I started, and then things got better and faster. It is a shame that the conditions were as they were. Gardena/Gröden is usually a cool race and today it was everything but cool. But I have no regrets. I was 2nd when I finished and that is great. There is not much I can do about the rest.”

Surprise winners on the Saslong are not rare: especially Markus Foser from Lichtenstein (1993) and Max Rauffer from Germany (2004) come to mind when it comes to victories from the back of the pack.

The 45th World Cup downhill on the Saslong turned into a sprint downhill due to heavy snowfall and bad visibility and it was approximately 30 seconds shorter due to the start from the super-G start. The race only got underway at 14:10 CET. Completion of the race was only possible thanks to the extraordinary efforts by the course preparation team clearing the fresh snow from the course and working since the wee hours.