ST. MORITZ, Switzerland (Feb. 8) — Austrian Michael Walchhofer nailed the lower two-thirds of the Corviglia downhill course Saturday to win the DH gold medal in 1:43.54 with Norway's Kjetil Andre Aamodt second and Bruno Kernen bringing Switzerland its first medal of the 2003 World Championships. Jake Fiala (Frisco, CO) led the U.S. foursome, finishing 12th — his international best — with Bode Miller (Franconia, NH) 16th.
NBC will televise four hours of World Championships coverage this weekend. The lineup starts with two hours of World Championships coverage today at 4 p.m., including same-day coverage of the men's DH and the gold-medal performance by Miller in the combined. Sunday, the network will televise two more hours (1-3 p.m. EST), including same-day coverage of the women's downhill plus both super G races earlier in the week; Miller collected silver in the men's SG while Kirsten Clark (Raymond, ME) was women's SG silver medalist and Jonna Mendes (Heavenly, CA) took bronze.
After four races, Austria and the USA have four medals apiece (three golds and a silver for Austria and a gold, two silver and a bronze for the U.S. Ski Team).
WALCHHOFER, AAMODT UPSET HUGE SWISS PARTY
For a while, it looked like a huge Swiss party for the estimated 38,000 spectators Saturday with Kernen in first place and Didier Cuche in second. But Walchhofer, running 31st, changed those plans. He was .01 behind at the first interval but gained speed as he tore down the mountain, leading by .3 and then .51 and finally by nearly a second.
Aamodt, the most successful alpine ski racer in Olympic and World Championships history (a record 12 Worlds medals, seven Olympic medals), came down right after Walchhofer and finished in 1:44.05. Aamodt's silver broke a tie at 11 medals with teammate Lasse Kjus and Marc Girardelli, the Austrian who skied for Luxembourg.
Fiala, running No. 10 in the midst of his finest World Cup season, came down in 1:45.36 and held the top spot for a half-dozen racers.
"I got no wind, it was a fair race. I still had a couple of mistakes in the area that's been troubling me all week," Fiala said". I got a little low — I hooked that panel two days ago in training and (Friday) I was late there. But I finally put a pretty good run together; I probably lost a little time there in the middle. I'm just psyched; it's a big event I finally put a good run down in the end."
FIALA DEALS WITH "NERVE-WRACKING" WAIT
Waiting for the rest of the field to come down, taking its best shot at him, was "awful, it's awful," Fiala said with a smile. "I've got to practice that in the summer. That's the first time I've stood over there waiting for the other guys coming down and it's definitely nerve-wracking.
"I was a little skeptical about how fast 10 was going to be because it did snow last night and they were clearing fresh snow off the track, but it turned out all right."
Miller said, "I was really only looking for one feeling: if things were going perfect and I was nailing it, and I felt I was in a position to medal, then I was going to take, obviously, a lot of risks on the bottom.
"The good thing is, this course, you can tell a lot on the top and then the risk needs to be taken on the turns right up from the finish. Once I got there," he continued, "I didn't feel I was going that fast and I just sort of took a passive line, little passive tactics and made it down no problems. I lost a little bit of time, I'm sure, on the bottom but today was a medal or nothing."
His run looked like it had a couple of wild sections, but Miller said he had no real problems. "It wasn't (rocky), it wasn't — I don't know what it looked like," he said, "but it didn't feel like that at all. There aren't any parts of that course that are that sketchy; I just took it pretty passive through the bottom and that's the only part that has the turns."
If the weather cooperates, he said, Miller — who hasn't been on GS skis for about three weeks, plaans to train giant slalom Sunday.
COACH SAYS WIND WAS MAJOR FACTOR
"Weather was a big factor again today. It's been a factor every day this week and it was very variable for the downhill," Head Coach Phil McNichol said. "In my mind, the wind was a big help from all the racers from about No. 20 on, not that there was any fluke medalist — you didn't have some guy coming from No. 74 to win it, but the wind, being so tremendously variable, was definitely a factor." Nine of the top 10 skiers, 12 of the top 15 finishers started 22nd or later.
Weather aside, McNichol was pleased with Fiala's performance — "Jake had a great day, good execution…but, obviously, the rest was a disappointment. But you just have to take a tough day like this and keep hammering."
Marco Sullivan (Squaw Valley, CA), racing in his first World Championships, finished 24th while Daron Rahlves (Sugar Bowl, CA) was disqualified when he missed the last gate after a shaky landing on the final jump of the course.
The women get back into action Sunday with downhill, the start of three races in five days. They'll compete in combined Monday and run GS Thursday. The men's next race is the giant slalom Wednesday.
2003 FIS ALPINE WORLD SKI CHAMPIONSHIPS
St. Moritz, SUI — Feb. 8
1. Michael Walchhofer, Austria, 1:43.54
2. Kjetil Andre Aamodt, Norway, 1:44.05
3. Bruno Kernen, Switzerland, 1:44.514. Didier Cuche, Switzerland, 1:44.675. Stephan Eberharter, Austria, 1:44.68 -12. Jake Fiala, Frisco, CO, 1:45.3616. Bode Miller, Franconia, NH, 1:45.7824. Marco Sullivan, Squaw Valley, CA, 1:46.18 - Disqualified: Daron Rahlves, Sugar Bowl, CA