It was billed as the clash between Bode Miller and Aksel Lund Svindal yet the men’s Downhill at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games produced one of the tightest finishes. Matthias Mayer won his first Downhill … race by six hundredths from Italian Christof Innerhofer, who had lead by almost seven tenths further up the course, with early leader Kjetil Jansrud holding on for third place ahead of Svindal with Miller down in eighth.

The Olympics brings out the best in races and four years after winning the Gold in the Giant Slalom, Carlo Janka put down an early mark. Janka has had a tough couple of years since his victorious 2010 season. This season has seen the Swiss racer coming back to somewhere near his best form but his lead lasted just five racers before Jansrud took the lead.

Just over a year ago, Jansrud was in turmoil as his season was cut brutally short when he tore his ACL in the World Championships. The Norwegian stood in the winners enclosure for three racers before Mayer took to the course. Mayer’s top sections gave no hint that the Austrian would follow Fritz Strobl on the roll of honour as an Olympic Gold Medallist. The top section was not great but Mayer soon got into the groove and started hauling in Jansrud’s time. At the bottom it was a lead of a tenth for Mayer over Jansrud.

Miller was first of the two big guns to start and Miller was in great form at the top: Yes he was ragged, yes this was Miller time, this was how Miller races. He puts everything on the line. It is all or nothing. The risks were being taken. When you ski in such a manner, there is a fine line between success and failure and Miller came into one turn three quarters of the way down just a little too straight and clattered the gate hard and this cost him too much time. The opportunity of victory was gone. In the finish Miller was distraught. From having been so dominant in two of the three training runs, Miller could not turn that form into Gold. “I wanted to ski it as hard as I could and not really back off, but it required a lot of tactics today which I didn’t apply. I skied hard and well, and that’s the most important thing. It just didn’t go all right,” said Miller

Svindal started down from bib 18. He knew where he had to ski fast and clever yet from the top he did not look on the ball. Small mistakes cost time. He was there but just not quite in the lead: The light was red not green for him. Although he crossed the line in third, he knew that there were plenty of other racers in the top seeds capable of dislodging him.

Svindal did not have long to wait for his worst fears to be realised as Innerhofer came down and pushed him into the position no racer wants in the Olympics – 4th. “It is pretty much the worst place to be. I’ve been there before and probably will be again. If you want to fight for medals, you have to be prepared to lose out on them,” he explained while congratulating the podium winners. For Innerhofer he said after the race: “I risked so much at the top. I thought to myself, ‘Come on Chris, you must push harder’, so I pushed harder. I thought that if I risked a lot it could go well and it could go badly, but at least I could say after the race that I tried.”

As Mayer stood in the leaders enclosure, with each racer he started to believe that the greatest win of his career was going to happen. Then the crowd suddenly turned their attention to the timing boards as the 2010 Olympic Downhill Champion posted faster times at the first two splits. Could Defago be the first man to defend the title? By the third split, there was a deficit and Mayer started to breath again. 26 years after his father had won silver in the 1988 Games in Calgary, Matthias Mayer was on his way to winning the Gold. Winning the Downhill Gold for an Austrian is what sport is all about. Mayer explained afterwards that this was the greatest achievement possible for someone in his sport.

While Miller explained that he felt the condition had changed for his risk at all cost strategy, Mayer put it down to the fact that he had been smiling all day, even during inspection. “Before the race, Bode told me that he was really nervous, but I was looking forward to the race, and I think that was an advantage,” said the Olympic champion.

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