So far this season, the men’s World Cup downhill tour has spanned 10.22 miles and dropped 14,455 feet over five races. The best have done it in just under 10 minutes of hell-bent descents over the most inhospitable conditions skiing can offer. And after all the near misses, varied lines, equipment fiddling, flat light, sunshine, good numbers and bad, just 0.52 seconds separate first place from second. That’s to say, when you add it all up, Beat Feuz is about 45 feet ahead of Mathias Mayer with about 6 miles of downhill racing left before the title is awarded at the end of March.
It is tight. As of this writing, the first training run has been canceled. It is pouring rain and 45 degrees. Pressure is mounting as one downhill has already been canceled, Wengen’s Lauberhorn, on an already lean nine-downhill calendar for 2021. As of Jan. 29, Norway closed its borders for two weeks to try to stem the influx of coronavirus. There are conflicting reports currently as to whether Norway can hold any races, but the FIS, Norwegian Federation, and the Kvitfjell organizing committee are in discussions with the Norwegian government about potential exceptions. A final decision is scheduled for Feb. 10.
UPDATE: On Thursday morning, the FIS informed, in order to best preserve the conditions of the slope, the jury together with the LOC and all other stakeholders have decided to invert the super-G and the downhill scheduled for Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
The new program is as follows:
- Friday, Feb. 5: Downhill at 11:30 CET
- Saturday, Feb. 6: Super G at 11:30 CET
Here’s what is certain. The Garmisch downhill will not start from normal men’s start. According to head U.S. speed coach Randy Pelky, the area is too tight to social distance. So, they’ll start from the women’s start at best. Due to weather and conditions, it’s conceivable they might race from super G start, which begins well after the demanding Troeglhang and below the long gliding section called the Schussanger.
If you’re into making lemonade when it’s raining lemons, you might look at it like American Travis Ganong. Last year, he was fifth on this track; in 2017, he won. On both occasions he trailed, by a lot, coming into the super-G start, then simply destroyed the field from there to the finish. He is consistently remarkable in the final split, so much so that last year’s winner Thomas Dressen said the key to his victory was consulting with Ganong on these final turns. The caveat this year is that the course deviates from the men’s modern track to the women’s before rejoining at the bottom. As for Dressen, who has been sidelined since November with hip surgery, he plans his comeback this weekend, to test the waters as it were. But if he doesn’t think he can finish high enough to preserve his ranking among the top 10, he will forerun instead, and preserve his rank for World Championships.
This weekend might also see the return of Mauro Caviezel, who crashed heavily on Jan. 7 while training on this very track. He suffered a severe TBI, but he has been cleared to race and is currently in Garmisch. He is sitting out the downhill with the super G in his sights, but like everything right now, that’s an audible. Despite his absence from the third (and last) super G contested this year in Kitzbuehel, he trails SG-standings leader Vincent Kriechmayr by just 16 points. So again, there are a lot of people glued to the forecast, which is looking warm with a threat of rain.
But should there be racing, keep a close eye on Johan Clarey. At age 40, he became the oldest skier to reach a World Cup podium when he finished second in the Kitzbuehel downhill this year, just the tinniest mistake from winning. Last year he missed victory in Garmisch by 0.17 seconds to Dressen. He is five years beyond the life expectancy of cavemen, yet he might well be in his skiing prime and on course for the first victory of his career. There are many fans of skiing, who hope he brings the thunder this weekend … but without the rain.