Historically, the place has been a ball and chain on Swiss ankles. The Austrians — no
surprise — have done well at Bormio and own roughly half of all World Cup downhill
podium placings. Italians have had some success on their own course and were com-
ing off the emotional Italian win at Alta Badia days earlier by Massimiliano Blardone.
Americans had more to look forward to at Bormio than the Swiss. Daron Rahlves won
the downhill twice and Bode Miller once.
The few who might have thought much of the Swiss chances were thinking it was
defending Cup downhill champ Didier Cuche who might upset the apple cart and pro-
duce the first Cup win for Switzerland on the Stelvio. Cuche, though a fantastic glider
with incredible tactics, is normally hard on his edges, not a plan for success on softer
snow. Beat Feuz, the early-season buzz of the Swiss, miscalculated high on course
and fell, sliding on his back the length of a football field.
Instead it was the oft banged-up Didier Defago — an Olympic champion, yes, but
one who had missed last season and one whose best result of this season had come
in GS — who redeemed the Swiss. Defago wasn’t on the radar and he carried no
baggage or much in the way of expectations. He simply let the skis run down a course
that suits, he says, his style.
“I felt very comfortable today from top to bottom,” he said after the race. “I perfectly
negotiated the main difficulties of the course and even congratulated my injured left
knee after crossing the finish line.”
The knee had been badly torn apart in a training crash at Zermatt in September 2010,
forcing Defago to the sidelines for the entire 2011 season.
As big a treat for the Swiss as Defago was, second place was perhaps even sweeter.
Patrick Kueng had one previous podium, scored at Garmisch at the tail end of the
2010 season. There were signs: last season, his best finish, a fourth, had come at
Bormio. But this was his first single-digit placing of the season, three-tenths behind
Defago. Austria’s Klaus Kroell, now positioned as his downhill team leader and a vet-
eran at 30, got third.
Whatever the reason — some said headwinds, some suggested changing surface
conditions — the top 10 of the finish order was loaded with skiers starting between
10 and 21. Two in that range failed to negotiate the course: the aforementioned Feuz
and 2009 Bormio winner Christoph Innerhofer, who missed a gate. But Defago started
11th, Kueng 12th and Kroell 18th. Erik Guay, in fourth place, started 13th, Bode Miller
finished fifth from start 1 9, Aksel Lund Svindal was sixth from start 16 and Johan
Clarey — the leader at Val Gardena until that race was canned — was seventh from
Bode Miller, but
he still gained the
lead in the downhill standings.
Erik Guay said
Bormio was more