Two years of visualising the start of the Olympic downhill was the key to victory, Austrian young gun Matthias Mayer said yesterday after bringing long-awaited gold to the ski-crazed nation.
Mayer, 23, who only started in the World Cup two seasons ago, had been impressive in training all week and managed to retain his cool to post the fastest time on the 3,500m Rosa Khutor course, high in the mountains above the Black Sea.
“Two years ago, at the World Cup race here, I really got a feel for the hill at inspection,” he said. “I knew I’d be coming here in two years’ time, so I needed to train towards that. I remembered it well.
“So in training every summer, when I was working on my fitness, I always imagined I was standing here at the start.”
In a race featuring the United States’ Bode Miller and Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal, Mayer was not initially a favourite to win.
But Mayer won, despite never making it on to a World Cup podium, let alone in the demanding downhill.
“I was very confident all week,” he said. “I realised straight off after the first training that this suited me, the turns, the terrain suited me.
“So I knew I could be really fast, I knew when I woke up today. I’ve dreamt of this and a dream has come true.”
Racing in 11th position, the Austrian still had many favourites coming after him, but none managed a faster time, in part due to softening snow at the bottom in warmer, overcast conditions.
Italy’s Christof Innerhofer, the 2011 world super-G champion, came close but had to settle for silver, with Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud pipping his compatriot Svindal for bronze – completing a podium of super-G specialists.
“I knew it was a good race. But I didn’t expect to win,” Mayer said. “Bode was very fast, but at the bottom he fell behind.
“That’s the moment I realised I could be in for a medal.”
Meyer can expect the entire weight of a grateful Austria to fall on him. The ski nation’s men have struggled to win downhill races in recent years and returned from the Olympics in Vancouver four years ago without a single medal.
“Today I wasn’t tense at all,” he said. “I was more tense the day before yesterday, when I won the training. Today I went into the race totally relaxed.
“I just tried to stay cool and concentrate on what I needed to do and it worked out great.”
“Everybody knew Bode could be the Olympic winner. But I knew in the last two intermediate times I could be very fast. Therefore I stopped my training yesterday and saved some power for today and I think that was very good and very important for me.”
Innerhofer missed gold by just six hundredths of a second but collapsed in ecstasy in the finish area and pumped the air with his fist as if he had just won.
“I let out my emotions because I was just overjoyed that on D-Day today I put in my best race,” said the 2011 world super-G champion.
“My goal was to make a medal. I’m not really fussed if it’s gold, silver or bronze.”
* Agence France-Presse