Men's Downhill: Kvitfjell
March 5, 1999
Austria's Andreas Schifferer and Norway's Lasse Kjus both celebrated remarkable wins on the "Olympiabakken" course in Kvitfjell, Norway where the first of two downhill races scheduled this weekend took place despite cloudy weather and poor visibility.
The flat light was not a problem for the aggressive Schifferer, the 1998 World Cup downhill champion. He captured his first win after a disappointing year plagued by injury. Meanwhile Kjus took over his downhill crown by finishing 4th.
Schifferer, winner of four downhill races last season, beat his teammate Stephan Eberharter by a narrow 10/100 of a second. Kjetil Aamodt, who was third last Sunday in a slalom in Germany's Ofterschwang, finished 3rd at 32/100 back. This outstanding performance allowed him to reinforce his lead in the overall World Cup standings as his main rival Hermann Maier didn't finish among the top-15.
Schifferer, who injured his shoulder last year at the Nagano Olympics and broke a leg in August while training in New Zealand, couldn't qualify for the World Championships in Vail in February and wanted to end the season on the upside. But he didn't expect to do so well on the demanding Kvitfjell run which in previous attempts has never brought him luck; never even skiing among the top-10 here.
"I had a good feeling after the training runs, but I didn't think my form would be good enough for my first season victory," said Schifferer, who lives south of Salzburg.
"Maybe I should celebrate this with an aquavit," he added, referring to the local liquor distilled from potatoes. "This season I tried to come back from injury too quickly and it cost me much energy. Now I'm slowly finding back a good form, but the World Cup season is over. But this success is a great boost for my morale before the next season."
In the downhill standings, Kjus built up his lead to 201 points over his main rival Franz Weber one point more than needed to be assured of his first World Cup title since he won the overall standings in 1996. There are only two more downhills left on the World Cup program and at this point he can't be passed.
Franz only reached a far 9th place, more than a second behind the winner. Hans Knauss, the Hahnenkamm winner from last January, came in 5th in front of Hannes Trinkl and Switzerland's Didier Cuche achieved his best performance this season.
America's Chad Fleischer, who set the fastest time in the last training run on Thursday, also finished with his season's best result in 14th, less than two seconds from Schifferer.
Aamodt, the 1994 overall World Cup champion, leads the overall now with 1190 points, 51 more than his friend Lasse Kjus and 72 more than Maier, "The Herminator," who had problems mastering the Norwegian downhill course on which he raced for the first time ever.
Kjus, who won five medals at the World Championships in Vail, had a strong comeback after skipping the technical races last weekend due to bronchitis and influenza. The skier from Oslo is the first Scandinavian ever to clinch the downhill World Cup title. His former teammate Atle Skaardal, a double world champion in super-G, was second three times in the early 1990s.
Lasse won the downhill twice here in 1996 and 1997 and he was aiming for a top-3 result this year after resting for the past week. He was very fast in the technically demanding upper part of the course, but ran out of gas in the lower flat section.
"I can't be too disappointed since I have won the Crystal Globe today," said Kjus. "I couldn't fight as hard as I wished but the most important in the finish ahead of Hermann Maier. It will be an interesting season finale in Spain. I feel tired I don't know how I will ski here this weekend."
If Kjus recovers most of his power over the next few days, he has a good chance to catch up to his friend Aamodt before the finals in Spain. It's the first time that both will fight simultaneously for the overall World Cup title.
Aamodt has won 15 World Cup events since 1992 and Kjus 12 since 1994. Both have collected 14 Olympic and World Championships medals since the early 1990s.
Aamodt won two super-G races here in 1993 and 1995. "It's quite an exciting feeling to finish ahead of Lasse and to beat some of the best Austrians," he said after the race. "I'm having great fun right now. I'm still very motivated there is nothing more important for me than to win once more the overall World Cup title. I feel able to give my best until the finals in Spain."
A winner in the combined in Kitzbuhel, Aamodt reached the podium for the fifth time this winter. He finished more than 20 times among the top-10 in all the specialty in recent months.
"It's so difficult but this is what makes it so special," he added.
Mountain Zone European Correspondent
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