KITZBÜHEL, Austria (AP) — American downhiller Travis Ganong let out a scream and lifted his left arm in celebration as soon as he crossed the line.
As the sixth starter, he had just gone top of the leaderboard at the classic men’s World Cup downhill on the Streif course on Friday.
Ganong clicked out of his skis but before he left the finish zone, he turned around to watch a large screen next to the course that was repeating footage of him coming down one of the most demanding hills on the circuit.
“It was a really good run,” said Ganong, who ultimately placed seventh in the race that was won by Norwegian standout Aleksander Aamodt Kilde.
With the Beijing Olympics looming, it was Ganong’s best downhill result of the season — and it came at a time when he least expected it.
In last week’s downhill in Wengen, another iconic World Cup resort, Ganong tweaked his back.
“Since then, I have been really, kind of, not able to push,” he said. “That was a lot of stress, the short time we had between Wengen and Kitzbühel I was really worried about it and I worked all day, every day, trying to make it feel better and better.”
Ganong took it easy in the two training runs on the Streif over the past two days.
“Today, for some reason, I woke up and I felt really good physically. So, I decided this morning to push,” he said, adding he had a “good feeling on the skis” during the race.
“And I’ve always loved this hill more than any other downhill on the circuit. It’s so fun to ski and it kind of fits more to my style. It all kind of worked out well today. Obviously, you always wish you could be a little bit better.”
Ganong, a two-time World Cup race winner and silver medalist in downhill at the 2015 world championships, will have another go on the Streif in a second downhill this weekend.
Initially scheduled for Saturday, that event has been swapped for weather reasons with the slalom on Sunday, giving the downhillers a day of rest between the two races.
“Luckily we have a day off tomorrow, so I can have some time to get ready for the second downhill,” Ganong said. “If we had a race tomorrow, I would be very worried right now.”
Sunday’s race was expected to use the original start, which includes a frightening steep section and a long jump into the Mausefalle, after the start was lowered on Friday because of gusts high up on the mountain.
“It makes it way easier. The stress and the anxiety you feel at the top start is gone when you start from there,” Ganong said. “Kitzbühel is so terrifying. Like, normally from the top start, nobody talks. It’s silent. Everybody is so focused. It’s so intense. Today, from that lower start, it’s back to a normal race. It’s kind of relaxed.”
Ganong led a group of four Americans that finished in the points, with Bryce Bennet in 11th, Steven Nyman in 21st, and Jared Goldberg in 24th.
Racing the Streif for the first time, Erik Arvidsson had a nasty crash but avoided injuries, the U.S. ski team said in a tweet.
Friday’s result meant Ganong matched his career-best finish on the Streif course. The only previous time he placed seventh was eight years ago, just weeks before he finished fifth in the Olympic downhill in Sochi.
“I think I’m skiing pretty well, and I have some speed,” said Ganong, who sat out the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics with a knee injury. “I just need to keep building and I’m excited for China.”
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