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Gardena-Gröden 2011: the Super-G Gold goes to Feuz, the Downhill to the Wind

The World Cup season 2011/12 has been under the banner of unfavorable weather conditions. One cancellation followed the next and the snow just did not want to fall in Europe. The FIS snow check on the Saslong was performed amidst brown meadows in strong contrast to the usual snow-white winter wonderland more common during the season. It was thanks to well-managed snow making machines as well as the expectations of lower temperatures, that Gardena-Gröden got the go-ahead for the races. This was a good start!

“We have a lot of experience with all kinds of weather conditions, so we are not too worried about it as this point. The lift company operates a very powerful snow making system so as soon as the temperatures drop we will be able to get the course race-ready.” said Stefania Demetz, OK Manager of Gardena-Gröden ten days before the race. At this point the climatic conditions in the region were such that snow making wasn’t an option given the thermal inversion characterized by high temperatures at higher altitudes. “The snow conditions on the lower part of the course are positive and about 80% of the entire run is covered with snow” explained Race Director Rainer Senoner during the FIS snow check on December 5th. 

Longest training of all times

As predicted, the course was race-ready just one week later and a slight snow fall had also turned the entire valley into a white winter wonder land. Once again, it was the weather that dominated the conversation during the first Team Captains’ meeting. Uncertain weather conditions were predicted for the period during the training and race days. Cloud activity was expected to increase on Wednesday along with light snow falls. The first training was moved up from 12:15 pm to 10:45 am - a wise decision - as the run had to be interrupted several times due to the changing weather conditions ending up taking four hours until all 79 athletes descended on the course.

Feuz is the only Gardena-Gröden Winner in 2011

The weather on Friday, the day of the Super-G, turned out better than expected although organizers had moved the start to 100 m lower than the original spot as a precautionary matter due to the bad weather forecast and strong gusts of wind. However, the race was performed during good conditions. The expected strong snow fall failed to appear and the weather took a turn for the better during the day.
Swiss-born Beat Feuz has been giving a multitude of signs during the season’s previous  four speed events that he is more than ready to take home a gold. He seized the opportunity and won his second World Cup race: this young athlete from Switzerland already won two silver and one bronze during the so far very short season.

Beating Miller

Starting with the relatively high bib number 26, Feuz managed to beat Miller who performed his magic on the course starting with bib 8. “I overheard them say that everyone is running slow. Which is why it was unbelievable to see the number 1 light up when I got the the finish. I am happy beyond words as I never expected to win. I had a good run with a small mistake made in a irrelevant part of the course.” said Feuz after the race.

Feuz picked the perfect line right from the start outclassing his competition during the lower part of course. At the end, Feuz beat Miller by 0.3 seconds, and Kjetil Jansrud (NOR) by 0.44 seconds. It was hard for Bode as he is still aiming for his sixth Super-G gold, after winning his last Super-G race right here in Gardena-Gröden in December 2006.

Given the improving weather conditions during the race, the second pool of athletes who were starting with higher numbers still had a good chance to place in the race. For example, Max Franz from Austria placed 5th with bib 54, Andreas Romar from Finland placed 7 with bib 40.

Disaster for Italian Team

These placing are the stuff dreams are made of for the Italian team. Best placed was Peter Fill with a 22th place, followed by Matteo Masaglia on 23 and Christof Innerhofer with 24.
The Austrian team feared much better although they missed the podium: Max Franz (5th), Joachim Puchner (8th), Mario Schreiber (9th) and Klaus Kröll thus placing four Austrians within the top ten.

Blown Downhill

The World Cup downhill on the second racing day on the Saslong capitulated to the wind. Strong wind gusts prompted the Jury to move the start 30 meters down the course. The first ten racers skied in good conditions, but multiple interruptions were forced due to strong winds along the entire course. The skiers with bibs 8 (Patrick Küng), 9 (Adrien Theaux) and 10 (Johan Clarey) descended in what later turned out to be the peace before the storm in perfect weather conditions thus clocking the best times.

Leading French Athletes Disappointed

But all for nought. Understandably, Clarey who was leading the race right up to the cancellation wasn’t all too convinced: “I don’t think that it would have been that dangerous. The course was not fast at all, the jump at the Camel Humps were not too far. Continuing the race would not have been right as conditions clearly changed significantly for each racer. But that wouldn’t have been the first time. We have raced countless times in very difficult conditions. I did not agree with the cancellation of the race. Adrien and I skied really well. Yes, we were lucky, too. I bet that the race would not have been cancelled if it wasn’t lead by two Frenchmen at the time. 

Cancellation due to Safety

FIS Race Director Günter Hujara explained that there was no other option: “The very variable wind conditions made a completion of the race impossible. We interrupted it several times, led opening skiers to clear the course again and again, but it was all for nought. The conditions changed so frequently and with such intensity that they become completely unpredictable. Which is why the Jury decided to abort the race to avoid any further accidents. It was clearly all about safety. The jury might sometimes be wrong, but we had a clear safety issue. I can fully understand why some people might think this wasn’t a good decision, but the safety of the athletes always comes first.”

Night Shift For Nothing

On the night before, wind was the furthest on the organizers‘ mind. Overnight, a strong snow fall made a night shift on the course necessary to ensure that the course was in optimal shape in the morning of the race. But once the snow as cleared, the wind made its appearance which lead to the cancellation of the race. The OC Head Demetz must  clearly have imagined the 50th World Cup downhill on the Saslong quite differently and she parsed her comments accordingly: “On the one hand I am disappointed that we were not able to conclude the race, but I also know that my team has done all that they could have done to ensure a fair race given the challenging weather conditions. And we would have been able to delivery given the strong commitment by the entire course preparation team that worked tirelessly all night long to make the impossible possible by turning the course into perfect conditions overnight.! The Jury’s decision to end the race prematurely was still comprehensible: “Günter Hujara is an expert and he made the right decision. Unfortunately, it was the right decision.”