The FIS World Cup stop in Wengen, Switzerland, saw a number of upsets, surprises, and DNFs. But the best news for the U.S. Ski Team came in the form of Bryce Bennett’s third top-five finish of the season in Saturday’s downhill.
Wengen’s famed Lauberhorn track, which is both the oldest and longest (2.7 miles) downhill course on the tour, was swarmed by a massive crowd both at mid-course and at the bottom on Saturday. The energy of the audience was palpable to anyone watching, especially when Swiss skiers were descending.
After three racers, Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal looked to be the man to beat, especially considering he tucked under the mid-course tunnel with a train passing overhead, believed to be a good omen on the Lauberhorn. He established a strong 0.75 second advantage over the first skier, Italy’s Dominik Paris, but it only lasted until Switzerland’s Beat Feuz dropped out of the gate, wearing bib five in front of a home crowd. Feuz crossed the finish with a time of 2:28.50, 0.38 seconds ahead of Svindal, and took the leaders chair to a roaring crowd.
The Austrian team was to play spoiler for the Swiss, however, as Vincent Kriechmayr, wearing bib seven, just beat out Feuz’s time by a narrow 0.14 seconds. The Austrian’s time of 2:38.36 would remain the fastest of the day.
The course proved to be too much for many of the best downhillers in the world. Austria’s Matthias Mayer slammed into a padded wall after misjudging a tight turn. Mayer’s teammate Max Franz lost an edge on a turn and took out three layers of B-net. The U.S.’s Steven Nyman (Park City, Utah) hit a roller in the shadows on the fastest section of the run, compressed, and slid off of the course on his back. No serious injuries were sustained except for bruised egos and damaged vocal cords as the racers' respective coaches screamed “Scheisse!“
The podium was shaken up when Svindal’s fellow countryman, Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, crossed the finish line 0.26 seconds behind Kriechmayr. Wearing bib 17, Kilde’s time was enough to slide into third overall and bump Svindal from the podium.
Bennett, wearing bib 18, found the same electricity as Kilde on the Lauberhorn. The Squaw Valley resident came across the finish in fifth overall, just behind Svindal and 0.63 seconds behind Kriechmayr. The results would stand, making for Bennett’s third top-five finish in as many races, and lining the American up to possibly peak in Kitzbuehel.
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“Feels good to be in the top five here in Wengen,” Bennett said at the bottom of the course, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “I did pretty well here last year—I think I was 17th—and I knew there were some sections I needed to clean up. Luckily this year we had the opportunity to go from the top again. It was perfect weather, cold conditions...couldn’t have been a better Lauberhorn.” See the full downhill results from Wengen.
Technical Skiers Dominate Wengen Alpine Combined
For the first alpine combined event of the FIS Alpine World Cup tour, the technical specialists prevailed over the speedsters during a beautiful Friday in Wengen. Due to the weather forecast, race officials decided to start the competition off with the slalom portion of the event, rather than starting with the downhill, which is the usual protocol. The swapped order of events thinned the competition quickly, as many of the top speed athletes struggled through the slalom while the technical specialists established a strong lead right away.
Austria’s young gun Marco Schwarz crushed the rest of the field in the slalom, finishing 0.20 seconds ahead of France’s Alexis Pinturault and 0.87 seconds ahead of Pinturault’s teammate Victor Muffat-Jeandet.
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American Ted Ligety (Park City, Utah) had a strong slalom run, finishing 1.20 seconds behind Schwarz, fast enough to head into the downhill in fourth place. Two other Americans, speed specialists Jared Goldberg and Bennett, were able to survive the slalom well enough to qualify for the downhill. Other speed specialists, including Mayer, Paris, and Kilde, did not even make it to the slalom finish line.
The lead that Schwarz established in the slalom, combined with a stellar downhill run, was enough to win the event. Muffat-Jeandet also put down a quality downhill run, enough to overtake Pinturault for second place. The only speed specialist to noticeably move up in the rankings was Switzerland’s Mauro Caviezel, who finished fourth behind Pinturault.
Ligety’s downhill run started strong, but on the third-to-last jump, he opened up wide and nearly lost control. He finished the rest of the run without a tuck, perhaps inflaming a lingering back issue. He would finish 14th. Bennett, on the other hand, used his speed specialty to move up in the rankings from 20th to 15th. Goldberg also found himself with World Cup points at the end of the day with a finish in 25th place. See the full Wengen Alpine Combined Results.
Hirscher Third in Wengen Slalom
For the final race on Sunday in Switzerland, it came down to one-tenth of a second between third and first place in the men’s slalom. Frenchman Clement Noel, who was second in the Adelboden slalom last week, continued his hot streak and became the fourth youngest Frenchman to win a World Cup slalom race.
The 21-year-old’s win didn’t come easy. During the first run, Noel established a 0.91 second lead over Hirscher, and a 0.42 second lead over Austrian Manuel Feller. Hirscher put down a blazing second run, 0.39 seconds faster than any other descent, but it just wasn’t enough to shake up the leaderboard after Feller finished just 0.02 seconds ahead of Hirscher. Noel also maintained his position after his second run, with a final combined time 0.08 seconds ahead of Feller and 0.10 seconds ahead of the best technical skier in the world, Hirscher. See the full result from the Wengen slalom.
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Up next on the FIS World Cup circuit is the famed Streif course in Kitzbuehel, Austria. The events start with the super-G on Friday, the infamous downhill on Saturday, and a slalom on Sunday.