Experience matters: Reichelt, 38, eyes more downhill success
KITZBUEHEL, Austria (AP) — Hannes Reichelt was the oldest man in Thursday’s World Cup downhill training in Kitzbuehel.
He was the fastest, too.
The 38-year-old Austrian led the final training session on the Streif course, a day before up to 50,000 ski fans were expected for the classic downhill, one of the most frightening and dangerous of the season.
The race was initially scheduled for Saturday, but has been brought forward one day as rain and snowfall in the Tyrolean Alps have been forecast for the weekend.
It will be Reichelt’s 11th appearance in the event. He triumphed here in 2014, and he is still the only Austrian to have won it in the past 12 years.
“It’s always a pleasure to return to a course where you had such a great success,” Reichelt told The Associated Press.
But the Austrian has also met the shadow side of the notorious hill. Two years after his victory, he crashed heavily after landing a long jump in flat lights.
It was the same race and the same jump where then-World Cup leader Aksel Lund Svindal sustained a season-ending knee injury, which is still hampering him. The Norwegian sat out Thursday’s training and later said he would not race on Friday.
Reichelt’s crash on the Streif is just as present on his mind as his victory.
“You have a lot of respect for the hill. The course is brutal, it’s definitely on the limit,” he said after completing his training run, 0.23 seconds faster than Matteo Marsaglia and 0.36 ahead of another Italian, two-time winner Dominik Paris.
Reichelt, who initially was a giant slalom specialist, raced this downhill only once in the early days of his 17-year World Cup career. But since 2010, he has been present each year.
While his results varied from winning to placing 43rd, the 2016 edition was the only race he failed to finish.
He came back to place ninth in 2017 and returned to the podium last year, behind German winner Thomas Dressen and Swiss downhill world champion, Beat Feuz.
“Compared to those in their 20s, my experience is very important,” Reichelt said. “You know that you cannot race each part of this course at 100 percent. Experience helps you avoid making mistakes or doing stupid things.”
Reichelt, the 2015 super-G world champion, has 13 career wins from 279 starts, but none in the last two seasons since triumphing in a super-G at the World Cup Finals in Aspen, Colorado.
A win on Friday would make Reichelt the oldest downhill winner in the 52-year history of the World Cup, surpassing Didier Cuche. The Swiss skier was 37 and six months when he won in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, shortly before ending his career in 2012.
Retiring is not yet on Reichelt’s mind.
“At the moment, I don’t feel like I should quit the sport,” he said. “Coming to a venue, I always have the mindset that I will come back here the next year. That is very important.”
While Reichelt plans to go on as a racer, he will step down from his role as the athletes’ representative on governing body FIS’ various committees.
After four years, he will not make himself available for another term when the World Cup skiers will choose their representative during a meeting at next month’s world championships in Are, Sweden.
There are personal reasons — his wife, former ski racer Larissa Hofer, is due to give birth to their first child in April — but Reichelt is also disappointed that his work has not been very fruitful.
Last year, the top-20 downhill racers met in Kvitfjell, Norway, to discuss possible improvements to the discipline. One of their proposals included changes to the current, rather complicated system for the allocation of start numbers at races.
“I have taken our proposals to the FIS, but we were completely brushed off,” Reichelt said. “It is just sad when the top-20 racers all agree on something but they are not heard. That’s a shame.”