Sun, Feb 08, 2009 - Page 20 News List

Canada’s John Kucera claims surprise downhill title

AFP , VAL D’ISERE, FRANCE

Canada’s John Kucera skis down the piste during the men’s downhill at the World Ski Championships in Val d’Isere, France, yesterday.

PHOTO: AFP

Canada’s John Kucera made the most of changeable weather conditions to claim an upset win in the men’s downhill at the World Ski Championships yesterday.

Kucera, starting with bib No. 2, took advantage of perfect early conditions to clock 2 minutes, 7.01 seconds down the treacherous 2,998m-long Bellevarde course, that had a staggering 959m altitude drop.

With only one World Cup victory to his name, in the Super-G in Lake Louise in 2007, the 24-year-old Canadian had the weather to thank as clouds and fog hampered later starters and some of the big favorites for the blue riband event.

“I was going for a podium, but I’ve never had a downhill podium before so to get it here is excellent,” Kucera said, adding that he would now turn to the super combined and the giant slalom events.

No one could match his speed over the middle third of the race that involved some tight turns before dropping into Le Mur, or the wall.

Swiss Super-G gold medalist Didier Cuche, who started 16th, claimed silver 0.04 seconds behind, while his compatriot Carlo Janka was a further 0.13 seconds adrift.

Cuche, who finished 0.99 seconds ahead of the Super-G field on the same hill on Wednesday, said the changeable conditions had made negotiating the course a “lottery.”

“We were just hoping the weather window would stay open for at least the first 22 runners, or even better 30,” the 34-year-old said.

Michael Walchhofer, leader in the World Cup downhill standings, was allowed a second descent after his first was ruled to have taken place in “irregular conditions.”

But the Austrian could only manage a ninth-placed finish, 1.43 seconds off the winner’s time.

American Bode Miller, who has been outspoken in his criticism of a course he claims encourages conservative skiing, finished in eighth spot, 1.37 seconds off the pace.

“Conditions were better after my run,” said the reigning overall World Cup champion. “They should have stopped it before me. But Kucera is a technician. He’s a good skier and really deserves this title.”

The result was indicative of a season where there have been five different winners in the six World Cup downhills so far.

Switzerland’s Didier Defago, who won the downhill classics in Wengen, Switzerland, and Kitzbuehel, Austria, last month, was in a good position to push for at least a podium spot when he suffered a dramatic fall.

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