Olympics: Defago trumps team-mates to end 22-year Swiss drought
Didier Defago eclipsed his more fancied Swiss team-mates to snatch the showcase men's Olympic Alpine skiing downhill title yesterday.
Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal took the silver medal at Whistler, with American showman Bode Miller ripping down the gleaming Dave Murray piste for bronze on a day when the pre-race favourites ended up as also-rans.
Didier Cuche had been tipped for glory despite a thumb injury, and team-mate Carlo Janka was another leading contender, but it was the other Didier who became the first Swiss to win a men's Olympic Alpine title since Pirmin Zurbriggen in Calgary in 1988.
"You had to really fight on that piste, it was pretty bouncy. It was really a beautiful run," said the 32-year-old after seizing his first Olympic medal in his third Games.
"This morning I knew that the course would suit me well. I have been looking for a podium for a long time," he added against a backdrop of clanging cowbells.
"I knew I could do something on this course. After three Olympic Games and a lot of World Championships, I think my experience made a bit of difference."
Starting 18th, and two places after Svindal had ousted the rampaging Miller from the gold medal position, Defago romped down the piste without a mistake.
Miller's bronze made up for his failure to medal in Turin four years ago and added to the two silvers he won in Salt Lake City in 2002.
Canadian hope Manuel Osborne-Paradis, cheered on by a boisterous home crowd in the Whistler sunshine, saw his hopes disappear on the lower part of the piste, and team-mate Robbie Dixon crashed out after a wild start.
There was no defending Olympic champion, with France's Antoine Deneriaz retiring since his surprise gold in Turin and world champion John Kucera of Canada absent due to injury.
The race had been postponed from Saturday due to fog and high temperatures, but skiers awoke yesterday to crisp conditions and clear skies.
Sweden's Charlotte Kalla stepped up to deny Kristina Smigun-Vaehi's quest to defend her 10km cross-country title.
Estonian Smigun-Vaehi returned from retirement aiming to be first to defend the title and put in an outstanding race, collapsing over the line.
Kalla was the only one who could come close, overhauling Smigun-Vaehi by 6.6 seconds with a time of 24min 58.4 sec.
World champion Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland struggled, finally coming in fifth, 21.7secs in arrears.
Marit Bjoergen of Norway took the bronze medal, 15.9secs back.
She already had two silver medals, from Turin and the 2002 Salt Lake City games.
Olympic debutante Kalla (22) held a 12-second lead with less than 3km left but nearly fell as she rounded the final bend. She managed to stay upright and sprint her way to victory.
"It feels crazy," Kalla said. "I can't believe I am a gold medallist."