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The 2023 podium drought for the American men ended on Saturday in Kitzbühel, Austria, when 34-year-old Travis Ganong made his last stand in the legendary Hahnenkamm downhill, finishing third and snagging the first American podium on the Streif since Bode Miller’s third-place finish in 2014.
To win in Kitzbühel, let alone finish, requires a delicate combination of speed, agility, and reckless abandon. At a minimum, the Streif is unforgiving. Add in eight inches of snow overnight, low visibility, and continued flurries throughout the day, and you have a potential recipe for disaster.
“When FIS’ Race Director, Markus Waldner, came and told us we were going to start the run on time,” said Ganong, “we all kind of looked at each other, like, alright, here we go. We gotta step up now and push.”
And push he did. Ganong made an impressive play for the hot seat as the fourth racer out of the start house, setting the pace for the rest of the field. He kept his head on straight, executed his plan, and put down a spectacular run. It just wasn’t enough to fend off Norway’s indomitable Aleksander Aadmodt Kilde, or the seasoned French veteran, Johan Clarey. Kilde bested Ganong by almost a second to claim victory. Clarey finished second, 0.28 seconds ahead of Ganong.
Watch: Travis Ganong finishes third in 2023 Hahnenkamm downhill
A noteworthy result, dampened by the bittersweet reality that this could very well be his last race on ski racing’s biggest stage. Ganong has hinted at retirement throughout the season, although an official announcement has to be made.
Coincidentally, 2014 was the year that Ganong earned his first top 10 in Kitzbühel, a seventh-place finish at the age of 25. With his entire career ahead of him, he vowed to one day have his name engraved on a Hahnenkamm gondola, the top prize in Kitzbuehel. A record of alpine legends who have braved the Streif’s precipitous pitches and treacherous terrain and walked away as its champion.
The Tahoe native has strived for glory in Kitzbühel ever since. With retirement on the horizon, he hoped that 2023 would be his year. To have reached the podium, a few steps from the top, felt like a bittersweet goodbye.
“After a week like this, when I had a lot of good training runs and two really good races, it really makes me want to come back, you know,” he reflected. “But at the same time, my goal this season was to push here, and I’m happy with what I did. I can walk away being satisfied with what Kitzbühel gave me.”
Ganong wasn’t the only American downhiller with notable results in Kitzbühel this weekend. Teammate Jared Goldberg almost beat him to the podium in the first downhill of the series on Friday, finishing in fourth, a mere three hundredths away from knocking Switzerland’s Niels Hintermann off the podium.
While not a podium finish, Goldberg’s run is a career-best, the kind of skiing that he’s felt in training but had yet to exhibit on race day.
“I’m just trying to show myself the level that I can ski at and do it on race day,” Goldberg commented after Friday’s downhill. “Today’s result is a step in the right direction for the rest of the season and will help me relax a little and get to a good headspace. I think I found another gear, how to push at the right times and stay loose.”
Erik Arvidsson had a significant result as well, pushing through the ranks to find 21st, wearing bib 52. Ryan Cochran-Siegle nabbed a top-20 finish in the wake of a crash on the Hahnenkamm two years prior that had him airlifted off the course. Bryce Bennett also found his way into the points.
Despite a difficult start to the season, the need for speed and desire to win is still fueling the American downhillers as they look forward to Garmisch, World Championships, and World Finals in the coming months. It’s not over yet, for Ganong or the rest of the team.