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Wengen: Kernen fans lament Swiss miss in Lauberhorn downhill

Wengen: Kernen fans lament Swiss miss in Lauberhorn downhill{mosimage}WENGEN, Switzerland – Bruno Kernen should have taken his own advice. Daron Rahlves did, and the American is the toast of the Swiss Alps this weekend.

Swiss veteran Kernen, champion of the Lauberhorn downhill in 2003, rode the chairlift with Rahlves during training Thursday and impressed upon the Californian that pushing too hard too soon could be fatal on longest downhill course on the planet. On race day Saturday, Kernen found himself out of contention when he made a mistake on the Alpweg, a long straightaway in the top half of the course.

‘Two days ago, I was with Daron on the chairlift,” Kernen said, “and I told him about my tactics, that I go into position on the top of that turn and go, ‘OK, easy Bruno, don’t ski too hard … because it’s still a long way down.’ Yesterday he told me he would try that today and now he won.’

Kernen, the 19th starter, gave the 25,000 race fans in attendance something to roar about by besting Rahlves’ time in the upper section. Kernen ended up posting the second-fastest time on the first intermediate, but exiting the Alpweg, he lost an edge and bounced on his right hip as he tried to make a right-hand turn.

‘I had great skiing until that point in the race’ Kernen said. ‘I’ve skied this section so many times in my life that I don’t have to think what to do there, I just do it. It’s experience, and it usually works. I come to that place, and I set my ski on the edge, and usually it just turns and comes around. Today, somehow I lost the pressure on the ski in the snow.’

Kernen is nonetheless enjoying a solid season, ranking seventh in the downhill points and within striking distance of the top four. But another ‘W’ at Wengen would have boosted Switzerland’s Olympic optimism. ‘All my dreams are broken, and many, many ski fans are disappointed’ Kernen said. ‘I think I have to look at the good things, that I was very fast until that point.’

Kernen applauded the effort of Rahlves. ‘Only a complete ski racer – that’s what I think – can win here’ he said. ‘But also, only a physical, strong athlete, because it’s the longest downhill in the world.’

Countryman Didier Defago, now 12th in the downhill rankings, finished eighth Saturday, one spot behind teammate Ambrosi Hoffman. ‘I had a pretty good run. I had a small mistake on the Minschkante, but the rest was good for me’ Defago said.

Race revellers got an early jump on the 12:30 p.m. downhill, flocking to key vantage points along the upper section of the course as early as 8:30 a.m. With the daunting rock sentinels of the Eiger, Wetterhorn and Jungfrau forming the backdrop, the scene is unmatched on the World Cup tour.

‘There is a very good ambiance here in Wengen, not so much at the finish, but at the top is crazy’ Defago said.

‘Wengen is one of those things that means so much’ Rahlves added. ‘This win is right up there with the Kitzbuehel win. It’s not as intense. There’s not as many people down here [at the finish]. But when you’re at the start and the whole length of the race hill, you can look down and see just tons of people lined up. The start was amazing today.’

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