COURCHEVEL – Competing with an elegance that makes the sport look easy. Technically brilliant. Highly successful. Humble. And Swiss.
The smooth and fluent run that earned Odermatt gold in the men’s downhill at the Alpine skiing world championships by a large margin on Sunday prompted French veteran Johan Clarey to label him the Roger Federer of skiing.
“Roger did way bigger things then I do,” Odermatt said. ”(But) like Roger, for me it’s very important to be a humble guy. To not just kill for the victory, to have big respect for all the other athletes. And I think this is what Roger (did).”
Big mutual respect can also characterize the season-long rivalry between Odermatt and Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway.
“It’s easy. If a guy is faster, you just have to respect it, then congratulate,” Odermatt said.
On Sunday, Kilde finished 0.48 behind Odermatt to collect another silver after also finishing second in super-G.
“It's a fun battle," the Norwegian said. “It’s fun because we are so (nice) and we are humble, decent people. We’re trying to do it in a good way. Fighting against Odermatt is always a joy. It brings a smile on my face more than anything. So that’s cool.”
Kilde, the pre-race favorite who won five World Cup downhills this season, smiled and hugged Odermatt in the finish area after being beaten.
“When someone delivers a run like Odermatt did today, then it’s just hats off and just respect it,” Kilde said.
Watched by 13,000 spectators, lots of them waving Swiss flags, ringing cow bells, and blowing air horns, Odermatt ended his four-year wait for a world championship medal in impressive style and let out a few screams after posting the fastest time.
“It was definitely something I’d never felt before, this scream at the finish,” said Odermatt. “Also, those two minutes during Alex's run, I was shaking all over my body like never before.”
Cameron Alexander finished 0.89 behind to take the bronze for Canada’s second medal of the worlds after teammate James Crawford won the super-G.
Odermatt had not won a medal in eight previous starts at senior world championships, after winning five golds at the 2018 junior worlds.
He had also never won a top-level downhill before, though he has finished runner-up in seven World Cup races.
“I knew something was possible but that it works like this is unbelievable," said Odermatt, who won Olympic gold in giant slalom a year ago.
Odermatt is the defending overall World Cup champion and is dominating the circuit again this season. His gold medal came three days after he finished fourth in the super-G, an event in which he was heavily favored after winning four of this season's six World Cup races.
“The fourth place from three days ago makes this gold even nicer,” Odermatt said, adding that he “went all-in” on what was a risky but smooth and fluent run from top to bottom.
Kilde, who leads the World Cup downhill standings after winning five races this season, led Odermatt by 0.20 seconds at the first split but lost time on his Swiss rival once he entered the shady part of the course.
“A couple of turns I messed up a bit, on the top and in the middle," Kilde said. “I tried to charge, nearly nailed it. I gave it a battle and I’m happy with that.”
The Norwegian praised Odermatt for his “mental strength.”
“He comes from a fourth place in Super-G, which for the whole Swiss community was a disaster," Kilde said. “He’s an amazing athlete and he does great skiing.”
The start of the L’Eclipse course was bathed in bright sunshine, but racers soon entered a lengthy shaded middle section through a forest before coming out into the sun again for the finish.
Odermatt’s victory made it a Swiss downhill double after teammate Jasmine Flury won the women’s downhill Saturday.
Crawford stood third for a while before his time was beaten by Alexander and by Austria’s Marco Schwarz, who finished four-hundredths of a second off the podium in fourth.
Alexander was competing in his first race at a major championship.
“Just pushing and feeling like I was hanging on a bit,” he said. “When you’re fighting and hanging on in downhill, usually it means you’re going fast. I had a couple of mistakes but they weren’t too costly.”
Crawford, who finished fifth, said he was “not surprised at all” with his teammate’s performance.
“Cam, he’s always had the speed, he has battled through some unfortunate injuries that have kind of sidelined him for a little while,” Crawford said. “His speed and ability is right up there with me and the other guys on our team.”
It’s the first time since 2015 that the Austrian men’s team failed to medal in the marquee event of the world championships.
Defending champion Vincent Kriechmayr lost his chance at a medal when he struggled in the Trou Noir (Black Hole) midway down, where racers land a jump amid dark shade and cannot see the tracks and bumps of the course.
“It was a good run but you have to race error-free here, and I didn’t manage to do that. All in all, just not good enough,” Kriechmayr said. “Odermatt had the perfect run, for sure.”
The race was interrupted for 20 minutes after Brodie Seger awkwardly landed a jump and appeared to injure his right knee. The Canadian had to be taken off the hill on a stretcher.
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