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TORINO: ALPINE: DENERIAZ WINS DOWNHILL IN A STUNNER; MILLER 5TH

TORINO: ALPINE: DENERIAZ WINS DOWNHILL IN A STUNNER; MILLER 5THSESTRIERE, Italy – Frenchman Antoine Deneriaz stunned the world of alpine skiing Sunday, knocking Austrian Michael Walchhofer off the top step of the podium to claim the Torino Olympics downhill gold.

Downhill world champion Bode Miller had a solid run, just 0.11 seconds from a medal — a tiny difference that will almost certainly mean the difference between success and failure for mainstream America.

”It would have taken a hurricane wind to get me into first,” Miller said. ”The way Deneriaz skied today, he was pretty much untouchable.”

Deneriaz mangled his knee in a nasty crash off the enormous Goulet jump last year at Chamonix. In part because of that accident befalling the French champion, organizers there shaved down the lip of the Goulet jump for this season’s race.

Fastest in the final training run, Deneriaz was the last contender with a chance to dethrone Walchhofer, who led for much of the race after sizzling down the bottom half of the course.

Running 30th (“Not what I wanted, but what can you do? At least I know I’m fast,” he said after his training win.”), Deneriaz was rock-solid the entire way, finishing in a time of 1 minute, 48.80 seconds, .72 ahead of Walchhofer. The Austrian was looking to extend his winning ways after his Hahnenkamm downhill triumph in January.

Switzerland’s Bruno Kernen was third, keeping Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt off the podium by just .06. It would have been Aamodt’s eighth Olympic medal. Kernen, skiing in his final Olympics at age 33, earned the first downhill medal for Switzerland since Pirmin Zubriggen won gold and Peter Muller silver at Calgary in 1998.

It was the largest victory margin in an Olympic downhill since Egon Zimmerman beat Leo Lacroix by .74 seconds at the 1964 Olympics in Innsbruck. And bronze medalist Kernen, at 33, becomes the oldest Olympic alpine medalist.

It was a forgetful day for a much-hyped American team. Daron Rahlves and Miller were slightly off their game after turning in very fast training runs.

Rahlves won the Finals World Cup here in 2004, but Walchhofer of Austria won a 1997 Europa Cup here and Kernen won the 1997 world championship downhill on this slope.

“We had two of the best guys in the race but came up a little short,” U.S. coach Phil McNichol said. “Just as shocking as our results were, so were the French, and I’m very happy for Tony [Antoine] and the French coaches.”

The two Americans were the only skiers in the world to have a chance to use an experimental pair of capped skis that Ski Racing magazine learned about on Saturday (Miller used them, Rahlves didn’t).

Miller was fast on the top but lost time on the bottom, finishing fifth. Rahlves placed 10th, Scott Macartney 15th and Steve Nyman 19th.

Rahlves said, “I went out there and did what I could. I did everything possible. I felt good about it. It was a good day to ski. I dont know where the speed was today.”

“It wasn’t bad. I skied pretty well in some sections,” Macartney said. “I was actually pretty happy with how well the middle went, and with the execution on some of the stuff that didn’t go as well the day before. So I can take a lot from that. A couple of the turns felt really good and that always makes you smile.”

Deneriaz tore a ligament in his knee in a crash in Chamonix, France, in January 2005 and missed the remainder of last season. He talked recently about the confidence problems that caused .

Deneriaz dedicated his victory to everyone who supported him and who had continued to believe in him when he was injured.

”I needed time to recover, day by day, race by race,” he said.

”I’ve been thinking of nothing else for the past year,” Deneriaz told French television. ”It’s incredible. I’m Olympic champion.”

For a moment in the finish, he laid on his back in the snow soaking in the feelings, and spectators could see the aluminum plates screwed to the bottom of his boots because Deneriaz is so big and strong that he could feel the plastic compressing as he hit bumps.

Minutes later, in the equipment control tent, he sat with his head in his hands, not crying but grinning.

Deneriaz immediately topped Walchhofer’s time on the fast, steep early stage of the race on the Kandahar Banchetta course under blue skies in the Italian Alps. From there, he negotiated the drop in elevation with grace and ease. At the end he tumbled to the snow, got up and waved his skis to the crowd, then pumped his fist in triumph.

France has now won two of the last three Olympic men’s downhills, both in unheralded fashion. At Nagano in 1998, Jean-Luc Cretier won, becoming the first Frenchman to win the downhill since Jean-Claude Killy in 1968. Another unheralded Olympic downhill champ, American Tommy Moe, offered some perspective on what gold means in an interview with Ski Racing before the Games.

Deneriaz, 29, has three career World Cup wins, all in downhill. Two were at Val Gardena, Italy, and the other at Lillehammer, Norway. He was 12th in downhill on the 2002 Snowbasin Olympic course. He entered the Olympics ranked 16th this season in the World Cup downhill standings.

Walchhofer, the reigning downhill World Cup and world champion, was on the brink of becoming the seventh Austrian to win an Olympic gold medal in the event.

The 10th skier out of the gate, Walchhofer stood at the bottom and watched the others try to beat the impressive time he had put down.

“Of course it was very, very suspenseful,” Walchhofer said. “I think when Miller went down, my heart stopped beating.”

Defending Olympic champion Fritz Strobl of Austria skied with a brace on his broken left hand and was eighth. He broke the hand in a crash on the treacherous downhill course at Kitzbuehel on Jan. 21.

Overall, the U.S. skiers felt they competed well technically, but just couldn’t find the speed.

“Guys were making up time on the bottom and I lost four-tenths,” said Miller. “I lost my grip in the last three turns and that’s where I really lost speed. I was super happy with the effort. I knew I had to be 100 percent. I came out firing and didn’t stop until the finish. The little mistakes usually separate the winner from the loser. The variables that go into winning a ski race are too many to count.”

A total of 8,555 ticketed spectators were in attendance for the downhill, the first alpine skiing medal event of the Games.
___

The Associated Press and USSA contributed to this report.

Men’s downhill
Sestriere, Italy
Feb. 12, 2006

1. Antoine Deneriaz, FRA 1:48.80
2. Michael Walchhofer, AUT 1:49.52
3. Bruno Kernen, SUI 1:49.82
4. Kjetil Aamodt, NOR 1:49.88
5. Bode Miller, USA 1:49.93
6. Hermann Maier, AUT 1:50.00
7. Marco Buechel, LIE 1:50.04
8. Fritz Strobl, AUT 1:50.12
9. Patrick Staudacher, ITA 1:50.29
10. Daron Rahlves, USA 1:50.33
11. Pierre-Emmanuel Dalcin, FRA 1:50.35
12. Tobias Gruenenfelder, SUI 1:50.44
13. Manuel Osborne-Paradis, CAN 1:50.45
14. Lasse
Kjus, NOR 1:50.64
15. Scott Macartney, USA 1:50.68
16. Francois Bourque, CAN 1:50.70
17. Ambrosi Hoffmann, SUI 1:50.72
18. Kurt Sulzenbacher, ITA 1:50.84
19. Steven Nyman, USA 1:50.88
19. Peter Fill, ITA 1:50.88
21. Aksel Lund Svindal, NOR 1:50.90
22. Klaus Kroell, AUT 1:50.91
23. Kristian Ghedina, ITA 1:50.98
24. Yannick Bertrand, FRA 1:51.37
25. Finlay Mickel, GBR 1:51.48
26. Didier Defago, SUI 1:51.51
27. John Kucera, CAN 1:51.55
28. Andrej Jerman, SLO 1:51.70
29. Bjarne Solbakken, NOR 1:51.72
30. Pavel Chestakov, RUS 1:51.93
31. Andrej Sporn, SLO 1:52.17
32. Craig Branch, AUS 1:52.55
33. Patrik Jaerbyn, SWE 1:52.87
34. Petr Zahrobsky, CZE 1:52.90
35. Claudio Sprecher, LIE 1:53.34
36. Borek Zakouril, CZE 1:54.07
37. Roger Cruickshank, GBR 1:54.65
38. Alexandr Horoshilov, RUS 1:54.70
39. Alex Antor, AND 1:55.01
40. Konstantin Sats, RUS 1:55.03
41. Mikael Gayme, CHI 1:55.73
42. Maui Gayme, CHI 1:56.10
43. Nikolai Hentsch, BRA 1:56.58
44. Michal Kalwa, POL 1:56.81
45. Jaroslav Babusiak, SVK 1:57.45
46. Renars Dorsh, LAT 1:57.54
47. Nikolay Skriabin, UKR 1:57.56
48. Sindri M Palsson, ISL 1:57.69
49. Jorge Mandru, CHI 1:58.77
50. Roger Vidosa, AND 1:59.24
51. Andrei Drygin, TJK 1:59.41
52. Alexander Heath, RSA 1:59.79
53. Florentine-Daniel Nicolae, RUM 2:00.93

THE SCOOP

By Hank McKee

Equipment
Men’s downhill, Sestriere, Feb. 12, 2006

Skier, skis/boots/bindings
1. Deneriaz, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
2. Walchhofer, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
3. Kernen, Rossignol/Rossignol/Rossignol
4. Aamodt, Dynastar/Lange/Tyrolia
5. Miller, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
6. Maier, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
7. Buechel, Head/Lange/Tyrolia
8. Strobl, Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
9. Staudacher, Head/Lange/Tyrolia
10. Rahlves, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic

Men’s Olympic DH, Sestriere, Italy, Feb. 12, 2006. … It is the first race of a 10-race Olympic schedule.

It is the first win of the season for Antoine Deneriaz. … His first since winning a World Cup downhill at Val Gardena on Dec. 20, 2003. … It is the 42nd Olympic alpine medal for France, the 15th gold. … It is the sixth Olympic DH gold for France … the complete list:
Henri Oreiller 1948 St. Moritz; Jean Vaurnet 1960 Squaw Valley; Jean-Claude Killy 1968 Grenoble; Jean-Luc Cretier 1998 Nagano; Carole Montillet 2002 Salt Lake City; Antoine Deneriaz 2006 Torino (Sestriere). … He was 12th in DH; 21st CMB at 2002 Winter Games.

It is the sixth podium of the season for Michael Walchhofer. … The fifth in DH. … It is the 87th Olympic alpine medal for Austria, the 31st in DH.

It is the first podium of the season for Bruno Kernen. … His first since a bronze medal at the 2003 World Championships. … His only other Olympic result is 11th in SG from Nagano 1998.

It is the eighth time this season Bode Miller has been fifth or better. … It is his first Olympic DH finish. … It is his third-best Olympic result after a pair of silver medals from 2002 (giant slalom and combined). He has Olympic results in four disciplines, missing only super G. … It is the 10th top-10 result of the season for Daron Rahlves. … It is his fifth-best DH result of the season. … It is his fifth completed Olympic race, the best a seventh in SG at Nagano 1998. … It is his best Olympic DH result. … It is the second-best result of the season for Manuel Osborne-Paradis, bettered only by a 12th at Val d’Isere DH Dec. 10. … It is his first Olympic result. … It is the fourth time this season Scott Macartney has been 15th or better. … It is his first Olympic result. … It is the ninth-best result of the season for Francois Bourque. .. Third-best in DH. … It is his first Olympic result. …It is the sixth-best result of the season for Steven Nyman. … His third-best DH result.

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