Austria’s Matthias Mayer stormed to gold in the Winter Olympics men’s downhill yesterday as Russia eyed a first medal and tried to solve the problem of empty seats at its US$50 billion showpiece.
Mayer, 23, clocked 2 minutes, 06.23 seconds down the 3.5km-long course at Rosa Khutor, high above the Black Sea, to give Austria its first downhill gold since Fritz Stroebl at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City.
Mayer also bettered his father’s, Helmut Mayer, silver-medal showing in the super-G at the Calgary Games in 1998.
“Of course it means a lot to me,” an emotional Matthias Mayer said. “It’s really difficult to go down the track without mistakes.”
Italian Christof Innerhofer took silver at just six-hundredths of a second behind, while Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud claimed bronze a further 0.04 seconds adrift.
World downhill champion Aksel Lund Svindal was fourth, while another strong favorite, Bode Miller of the US, was a disappointing eighth.
“I skied hard and well, and that’s the most important thing. It just didn’t go right,” Miller said.
Meanwhile, hosts Russia were fighting on two fronts: looking for a first medal to ease the burden of expectation and to get spectators to the venues in time for events.
Organizers said they had sold 92 percent of the tickets available for the first day of medal competition on Saturday, but that thousands had not made it to the venues on time.
Russia went into yesterday’s figure skating team competition seeking their first gold. The hosts have 47 points, six ahead of Canada, with the US third on 34 ahead of the third and final day.
Fittingly, veteran Russian star Yevgeny Plushenko, 31, can help seal his second Olympic gold after 2006 when he performs in the men’s free skating, with the women’s and ice dancing events also to go.
In yesterday’s action, Jamie Anderson gave the US a slopestyle snowboarding double following Sage Kotsenburg’s victory in the men’s competition a day earlier.
The four-time X-Games winner produced the goods on her second run with a near-perfect 95.25 score.
Finland’s Enni Rukajarvi was second, while Jenny Jones took third to give Britain its first-ever Olympic medal on snow.
In the men’s Nordic skiathlon, Switzerland’s Dario Cologna powered to victory to earn the second Olympic gold of his career.
Cologna finished in 1 hour, 8 minutes to claim first, 15.4 seconds ahead of Marcus Hellner of Sweden, with Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby taking bronze.
When the normal hill final is staged, Switzerland’s Simon Ammann, the 2002 and 2010 double Olympic champion, will aim to become the first ski jumper to win five gold medals. However, the favorites will be World Cup leader Kamil Stoch of Poland and Austria’s Gregor Schlierenzauer, the 2010 team goldmedal winner on the large hill.
The men’s luge could see 42-year-old Russian Albert Demchenko become the oldest Winter Olympic medallst in an individual event.
Demchenko knows he has an opportunity to make history after he finished the first day of the men’s singles in second position with two more runs to come yesterday.
However, defending champ Felix Loch of Germany, who leads after two rounds, remains the favorite.