Skill and fearlessness were put to the test in the downhill race at the 2019 World Para Alpine Skiing Championships as 17 out of 65 athletes were unable to reach the finish line, including several medal favourites.
Official downhill training was postponed for three consecutive days due to bad weather and was ultimately held on the same day as the race, leaving the athletes no margin of error.
In the end, technique proved crucial as several technical specialists emerged on top and clocked their careers’ best results in the speed events.
MEN'S VISION IMPAIRED - HOME HERO
Giacomo Bertagnolli and his guide Fabrizio Casal earned their first World Championships medal in a speed event in true Italian style. Not only was their first speed event medal golden in colour, but the two school friends also won it on home snow in Sella Nevea, Italy.
“I’m super happy because it’s a gold medal in downhill and in downhill for us it’s very difficult,” Bertagnolli said. “Compared to two years ago in Tarvisio this course here was more technical, a little bit faster, so it’s our course and we did well.”
“It was so important, because we felt like we are good at all alpine skiing disciplines, but in the fast disciplines we were not so good in the past years and this year, we were really fast,” Casal added.
Austria’s Josef Lahner and guide Franz Erharter took their third consecutive medal at the 2019 Worlds, while Slovakia’s Jakub Krako and guide Branislav Brozman moved up from fourth at the 2017 World Championships in Tarvisio to third in Sella Nevea.
WOMEN'S VISION IMPAIRED - HAPPY AND GLORIOUS
Menna Fitzpatrick and guide Jennifer Kehoe made history for Great Britain in the women’s vision impaired race. By winning gold, they became the first alpine skiers in British history to win world titles in both technical and speed events.
The pair had a shaky training run but rebounded nicely in the final.
“One of the biggest challenges that you have, particularly in the speed events, is if you lose the connection and that happened to us in the training run. Trying to get that back when you’re travelling at 60 miles and hour is so difficult,” Kehoe said. “Our only goal for the race was to keep that connection tight and we did that.”
“We haven’t actually completed a downhill since we were in Canada last year because we crashed out of the Paralympics in downhill so we were just happy to complete it,” Fitzpatrick added.
Their teammate, Kelly Gallagher, and her guide Gary Smith finished second. Third place was left empty after the other contenders failed to finish the race. Among them was multi-world and Paralympic champion Henrieta Farkasova, who re-injured her right knee and was forced to pull out midway through the race after a harsh turn.
The Slovakian skier is now expected to miss the rest of the season.
MEN'S STANDING - THEO ON THE RISE
Theo Gmur continued his meteoric ascent to becoming one of the best standing skiers with another top result at the 2019 Worlds.
Two years ago the Swiss skier did not even enter the downhill event, but a gold medal in downhill at PyeongChang 2018 put him in the spotlight and he had much to prove as he pushed out of the starting gates in Sella Nevea.
“The world champion title is something special for me,” Gmur said. “I was three-times Paralympic champion last year, but not world champion and today I can say I am world champion and it sounds so good.”
Defending world champion Markus Salcher was philosophical about his second-place finish, having already succumbed to Gmur’s talent in PyeonChang.
“The young guys are strong, but for me it was good because the days before it wasn’t easy with no training,” Salcher said. “It’s not my track. I need some flat parts to glide. That’s my strong part in skiing and here it’s only steep and it’s very technical, so this silver medal is amazing.”
The technical specialist from France, Arthur Bauchet, finished third.
WOMEN'S STANDING - GOLDEN STREAK
Bauchet’s teammate Marie Bochet extended her golden streak at the 2019 Worlds with a third consecutive gold medal to follow on her earlier victories in the giant slalom and slalom.
Race day began in dramatic fashion as one of Bochet’s main rivals, Alana Ramsay of Canada, crashed in the training run, breaking her ski and injuring her shoulder. She did not race in the final, which left only one challenger to Bochet’s dominance on the start list.
Andrea Rothfuss of Germany bravely rose to the challenge but was still 5.86 seconds behind the Paralympic champion. The effort earned her a silver medal.
Japan’s Ammi Hondo finished third to earn her first major medal.
MEN'S SITTING - ORANGE IS THE NEW GOLD
The men’s sitting race saw more than half the athletes unable to finish, including Paralympic and defending world champion Andrew Kurka of USA.
With this shakeup, the gold was up for grabs and Netherlands’ Jeroen Kampschreur was quick to take advantage. It was the first downhill victory for the 20-year-old who is known as a technical specialist. He has already defended his world titles in the giant slalom and slalom at the 2019 Worlds and was ecstatic to add another gold in a speed event.
“I didn’t get a podium in downhill in two years,” he said. “We did a lot of hard work in speed training and until now for me it has worked out OK. I got a couple of fifth places, but now to win the gold medal, it’s amazing.”
It was also a big personal victory for Kurt Oatway. The veteran skier from Canada got injured in the downhill at the 2017 Worlds and was unable to start the final race. Two years later he was back with a silver result.
“I kind of came off a feature, a jump, a little crooked, started turning in the air, landed awkwardly, fell over, bounced off the B net, landed on my arm and broke it so that put me out for the rest of the season,” Oatway said. “It was kind of a little bit of redemption, a little satisfaction coming back to the world champs and not winning it, but definitely getting a medal.”
Japan’s Takeshi Suzuki finished third.
WOMEN'S SITTING - GERMAN TENACITY
The tough course was no obstacle for Anna Schaffelhuber, who had her world title and star status as Paralympic champion to defend. With the gold in downhill, the German skier has won medals in each of her events at the 2019 Worlds, including silvers in slalom and giant slalom.
“The speed disciplines are my favourite disciplines at the moment, so I was so happy that the race took place and I said, ‘OK, now is my chance. I have to be fast and I have to do good skiing’,” Schaffelhuber said. “I’m very happy that I did it today especially because the conditions were very, very hard, but I think I had a lot of experience and that helped me today.”
Her teammate Anna-Lena Forster finished one step down, while Japan picked up its third medal of the day with Momoka Muraoka’s bronze.
The super combined races to be held on 31 January will be the final event at the 2019 World Championships. The super-G portion of the race will count also as an individual super-G race due to bad weather expected on the original race day, 1 February.
You can watch the World Championships live on World Para Alpine Skiing’s website and Facebook page, where live results are also available.