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Only one man stood between Norway’s Aleksander Aamodt Kilde and the downhill crystal globe in Courchevel, France on Wednesday morning—Switzerland’s Beat Feuz. And Feuz, the four-time, reigning overall downhill champion since 2018 and the Beijing 2022 Olympic gold medalist in the discipline, wasn’t going to go down without a fight.
Both men skied well, but still riding the high of clinching his first Olympic medals and the super-G crystal globe on home snow in Kvitjfell, Norway last weekend, Kilde surpassed Feuz by a mere 13 points to take the 2022 World Cup downhill title. The kicker: Kilde finished fourth in the final downhill, just behind Feuz who landed on the podium in third. Kilde’s downhill racing throughout the 2022 World Cup season was just that little bit more consistent to give him the edge in the final point tally.
Watch: Kilde clinches 2022 World Cup downhill title
But his fourth-place finish in the final downhill wasn’t quite enough to earn Kilde a second-career overall title. That slipped away when Switzerland’s Marco Odermatt finished second in the downhill that same morning. No matter, Kilde still had much to celebrate. He now had two speed titles to his name, in addition to his overall title from 2020. During an injury comeback season, he couldn’t ask for more.
After a morning of celebration, the best speed racer of 2022 settled in to watch his girlfriend, Mikaela Shiffrin, take on the very same track he had raced only hours before. The 27-year-old American was on a mission to claim the overall title that had eluded Kilde that same morning.
Unlike Kilde, Shiffrin had a rough go at the Beijing Olympics and amidst tremendous media scrutiny, was fighting to make a point in her final races of the season. Olympic medals or not, she’s still one of the most dominant athletes on the World Cup and arguably the greatest skier of all time.
Kilde looked on in awe from the finish as Shiffrin skied a near-flawless run, past second-place finishers Christine Scheyer of Austria and Joana Haehlen by a tenth of a second to win the final downhill race of the season. She took the win with bib 21.
“How did you actually do that?” Kilde asked Shiffrin, astonished, as they embraced and celebrated her win in the finish. Shiffrin, speechless, simply smiled and shrugged.
Never in her career has Shiffrin opted into a downhill race at World Cup finals. Despite having won three out of the 16 World Cup downhills she has raced in her career, she hardly considers herself a speed skier. The last time she stood on a speed podium of any kind was in Bankso, Bulgaria, back in January of 2020—her last World Cup win before the loss of her father and before existential questions about her career infiltrated her psyche.
“I don’t really feel like I’m supposed to be winning downhills,” she said following her unexpected victory. “Actually, I feel like I’m supposed to not be winning downhills, so it worked out amazing today. I thought if I could be top-10 or top five, that would be great. That’s the only reason why I started. But to actually win the race is above my expectations.”
Watch: Mikaela Shiffrin wins final World Cup downhill
Shiffrin’s comfort with the downhill track was evident coming into race day. She finished third in the first training run and first in her second training. She consulted with Kilde on tactics, as they had the chance to train the new L’Eclipse track together. She gathered what she needed to ski with the utmost confidence. When she pushed out of the start gate from the back of the pack, the top-15 women were only separated by 0.65 seconds in what NBC commentator Steve Porino called ‘the tightest race of the season.’ And somehow, Shiffrin pulled it off.
“[Aleks skied] the course, so obviously he knows how it’s feeling…how the surface feels, and we’re talking about skiing a lot, so it’s really pretty easy for me to understand his points,” commented Shiffrin. “From the first training, he said, ‘be smart in these key sections and then just make good turns.’ It was just simple and clear. And then I felt very comfortable with where I was going on the track all of the time, so then I felt like I could really push and ski with good intention and timing. It worked perfectly.”
The unique point system of World Cup finals was also on Shiffrin’s side Wednesday. Unlike the regular season, only the top-15 finishers walk away with points on race day, and Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova, who has been close on Shiffrin’s tail in the fight for the overall title, finished 16th. She now trails Shriffin by 270 points with the super-G, giant slalom, and slalom races left to tackle.
Shiffrin’s nerves were stable even with the overall title on the line. It wasn’t her race she was worried about Wednesday; it was Kilde’s.
“I was more nervous for his race than for mine,” she said. “For him, this was the race that decided much of his season. There was a lot going on in his heart about today, and I knew that, and I could feel it too.”
This is ski racing’s power couple, separated by conflicting schedules and COVID protocols throughout the majority of the season, together in the finish, celebrating their mutual success. As good of a start to finals week as any.
See the full results of the men’s and women’s final downhill races here.