Let the debates begin. With the final World Cup downhill of the season canceled and additional weather challenges expected for tomorrow’s super G, every clinch will now come with a caveat.
Was Switzerland’s Beat Feuz the deserving downhill globe winner? In one camp, the Beat-believers will laud what has surely amazed me over the years: He’s rarely off the podium, and over the last four years, UFO sightings are a more common occurrence than Feuz finishing outside the top 10. Others will remind you that, mid-season, he was ranked fifth in the downhill standing behind then-leader Alex Aamodt Kilde, Ryan Cochran-Siegle and Urs Kryenbuehl — all of whom were injured and out the last half of the season. To that end, only 20 of the top-25 ranked downhillers reached the finals uninjured.
Sofia Goggia would have been among the three women in the top 25 to miss finals due to injury. But she dropped the crutches weeks early to get two days of training and steel herself for the challenge. It’s hard to imagine she would not have wrapped up the title prior to the finals had she not missed the last two races, but you can’t help feel for Swiss skier Corinne Suter and Lara Gut-Behrami for missing their chance. For many, they’ll look at the points Gut-Behrami missed in the campaign to reel in lesser speed skier Petra Vlhova in the overall. Others will point out that Gut-Behrami might be another 40 points further adrift had Goggia not been out injured. And on it will go.
For now, weather is improving, and race director Markus Waldner said part of his rationale for canceling today’s downhills early was to increase the odds of having the track ready for tomorrow. The Swiss course crew has been at work 24/7 since the week has started, and according to my Swiss broadcasting colleague, Stefan Hoffmaener, even Swiss royalty are throwing their back into it: “Maria Walliser, two-time world champion and 14-time downhill winner is up there alongside Heini Hemmi (Olympic champion ‘76 in GS) and Walter Tresch (combined silver medalist Sapporo ‘72). Hemmi is a local hero, and a part of the race course has recently been named after him. The ‘Hemmi-Kante’ is the first jump in the downhill and is now the super G start.”
Though the women’s super G title has been clinched by Gut-Behrami, and Austria’s Vincent Kriechmayr is a top-14 finish away from clinching his, tomorrow’s race — or decision to race — might go down as the most decisive race of the season. Gut-Behrami’s waning chances to win the overall will be all but dead if tomorrow’s race is canceled.
It’s not as dire for Switzerland’s Marco Odermatt in his quest to bring back 31 points on Alexi Pinturault, but it’s the kind of dire straights Axel Lund Svindal faced at the finals in 2009 in Aare, Sweden. His lead was just two points over Beni Raich going into the final slalom. Svindal’s scoring days in slalom were behind him. Raich was the best slalom skier of his generation and needed only to finish in the top 15. The Norse gods smiled on Svindal that day, as Raich straddled and lost the title.
No one wants ski racing to come down to prayers, but you can bet there is more than one bent knee in Switzerland tonight, asking Mother Nature to give them just this one small clearing in the clouds.