Even for the World Cup’s Toughest Downhill, Today Was Ugly

Weather and one particularly sneaky spot made today's Hahnenkamm downhill especially lethal—taking out some of the world's top racers

Italian racer Peter Fill, winner of the Hahnenkamm downhill today. PHOTO: KSC

Even for the most demanding course on the World Cup circuit, today was a particularly rough day. Kitzbühel’s Hahnenkamm downhill started an hour late as the organizers tried to wait out the weather—a terrible trifecta of wind, snowfall, and flat light. And despite expectations that the course would run its full length for the first time since 2013, the course was shortened by 40 meters (about 130 feet), thanks to high winds at the top’s Mausefalle.

Even so, three top racers had serious crashes. By Saturday evening, two of them were confirmed to have torn knee ligaments, including Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal, who had been leading in the World Cup overall standings. And thirty racers in—the minimum number at which the race could still be counted—the rest of the race was called off.

The main problem came down to one spot on the Hausbergkante, about two-thirds down the course: There were rolls in the terrain that, in the day’s flat light, not all of the racers could see. That’s not ideal at normal speeds. Never mind at the 65mph the athletes hit at that point. Austrian Georg Streitberger, Austrian favorite (and 2014 downhill winner) Hannes Reichelt, and Norwegian top contender Svindal all crashed there. As of Saturday evening, both Svindal and Streitberger were confirmed to have torn knee ligaments and receiving surgery.

“You see guys like Reichelt and Aksel crashing, that says a lot,” said Andrew Weibrecht, who’d clinched second in the super-G the day before and finished best of the U.S. team today, coming in 13th.

The other tumble was by U.S. racer Steve Nyman, who—running 11th—had been leading until his crash. “I was just giving it everything. I was really fired up for today,” Nyman said in the finish. “It’s a bummer. You gotta risk it and sometimes it doesn’t pay off. It’s been a wild ride, watching this today—Hannes going down, Aksel going down. Austria’s lost [four] guys on the course this week. So I’m glad to at least be in one piece.”

Kitzbühel is never forgiving. But today, the win was only going to go to someone who practically avoided any mistakes whatsoever. That was Italy’s Peter Fill, who had a clean, aggressive run that put him 0.37 of a second ahead of Switzerland’s Beat Feuz. The third-place winner was Carlo Janka, also Swiss.

Fill put it simply: “When you start here, you know it’s really dangerous, and you know you need to risk a lot. Sometimes you come down and you are okay, and sometimes you crash. The lives of skiers are so.

“Especially here at Kitzbühel.”