1st Men's DH: Val Gardena, Italy
December 18, 1998
Norway's Lasse Kjus may have celebrated his greatest World Cup victory in today's downhill in Val Gardena, Italy where he gave a lesson of technique and self control to all his rivals. After an impressive and almost perfect run down the treacherous and icy "Saslong" course, the 1996 Overall World Cup winner beat his closest competitor, Austria's Werner Franz, by almost a second.
Hermann Maier reached a strong and unexpected third place at 1.10 secondhis best result in that event since Garmisch-Partenkrichen, Germany last February. Italy's Kristian Ghedina, a winner here in 1996, was 4th in front of another Norwegian, Kjetil Aamodt who was 5th.
Two skiers were seriously injured after crashing into the safety nets: David Pretot from France and Louis Ehlias from the USA. Both suffered torn knee ligaments.
Kjus, who achieved his fifth career win with this downhill, is definitely the man to beat in this early part of the season. A week ago he triumphed in the Val d'Isere, France downhill race, taking advantage of good weather and race conditions. In Val Gardena, the conditions remained demanding yet excellent for all the favorites, and he confirmed in the most brilliant way that his success was not a fluke. Starting in 14th position in front of Ghedina, he beat the best time established earlier by Sweden's Patrik Jarbyn by almost two seconds.
Hermann Maier also commented on Kjus' clean, fast run: "I watched him on a TV monitor at the start and I couldn't see a single mistakehe was awesome in the last turns," he said.
Kjus himself had a hard time explaining why and how he has been so fast.
"The slope was much more demanding than in training and I had a lot of respect of the main difficulties," said Kjus. "This forced me to be very concentrated before the start in order to achieve a clean run. Downhill is a very demanding specialty. You burn a lot of mental energy to be serene and relaxed before fighting your way down the hill. In the past two years, I was not in such a great shape and I was really scared before the start. It was quite frustrating for me. Fortunately, I have found back an excellent shape and this allows me to take more risks. I also feel well rested because I was able to make a break before the races in Val d'Isere."
"It was a good idea not to go to Whistler," Kjus continued. "I had time to train well and to regain much energy. At our level, experience and the right motivation are crucial elements to win races. When I cruise down such a demanding slope, I try to put all my emotions aside in order to be as focused as possible. I always try to follow the line which I have designed in my mind. Today it worked perfectly, especially on the demanding turns. This course is really challengingthe jumps are difficult because you can land on the flats. You can't make a mistake when you charge."
Kjus was excited to find himself back in the lead of the Overall World Cup in front of the Austrian favorites. He doesn't hide his ambition to fight for the number one spot and for more gold medals in Vail during the coming World Championships. From 1993 to 1998 he amassed a collection of eight medals from past Olympics and World Championships.
"It's funny, but it's only the beginning of the season " Kjus added. "For sure I feel stronger than in the past two seasons and I'm looking forward to ski like three years ago when I always finished among the top-3 in downhill, giant slalom and Super-G. My next goal is to reach again the podium in giant slalom."
Austria's Franz Werner, second in Val Gardena in 1994, reached for his tenth place on a World Cup podium. He doesn't give up his hope for a first win in future weeks. This result boosts his confidence, and since he changed his equipment last summer, he believes that he will stay competitive with his new skis.
"I had to make a lot of tests to check my new material, so that I couldn't totally concentrated on my training," said Franz "I know what I was able to achieve this year."
Werner is 3rd in the downhill standings and was happy to be on the podium today. "I was really proud to be up there on the podium with such big names as Kjus and Maier" he said.
For once, Maier too was pleased by a 3rd place normally not good enough for him. But this time, he appreciated this result after difficult moments on the challenging "Saslong" course. He even lifted his arms in the finish area after finding out he came 3rd.
"This is a kind of victory for me," said Maier after the prize giving ceremony. "This course requires much skill and great experience. I had a hard time to handle all the jumps and I also blew some important turns, but I'm anyway happy by my result. I was aiming for a safe run today and I didn't try to approach my limits this time. I have to save much energy for the next races scheduled for this long week-end. I will fight harder on Sunday during the giant slalom in Alta Badia which I will try to win. It's such a great event. On Monday I will again perform in front of my public in Innsbruck and I plan to remain unbeaten in Austria in 1998."
Maier feels able to improve his line during the second race. "I know where I made the worse mistakes and I will try to correct them," he said. "Kjus will have a hard time repeating his great run."
In fact, Kjus, the Norwegian ace doesn't worry about another win, which would made him the first skier since the great Franz Klammer in 1976 to win that race two days in a row.
"My main goal is to remain as cool and relaxed as today," Kjus said. "I don't want to think about the victory, but only about another fine run down that hill."
Also aiming for the victory will be Kristian Ghedina, who expected more than his 4th place and Jean Luc Cretier who is worth more than his disappointing 23rd place.
Mountain Zone European Correspondent
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