By The Associated Press on December 14, 2023.
SELVA DI VAL GARDENA, Italy (AP) – American skier Bryce Bennett surprised the favorites by winning the Val Gardena downhill with a late start number as the men’s World Cup speed season finally opened on Thursday a month later than scheduled.
The previous two stops on the circuit were wiped out due to bad weather.
Bennett, who also won this race two years ago, took advantage of improving light on the Saslong course with bib No. 34 and edged two-time defending downhill standings leader Aleksander Aamodt Kilde by 0.03 seconds.
Two-time defending overall World Cup winner Marco Odermatt was pushed down to third, 0.05 back.
World super-G champion Jack Crawford of Toronto was fifth.
The two-meter (6-foot-7) Bennett used his tall frame to absorb the terrain in the technical Ciaslat section that characterizes the course, and crouched into an aerodynamic tuck to make up time on Kilde and Odermatt in the steep final gates.
When he saw the result, Bennett held his arms out wide in apparent disbelief and flashed a wide smile framed by his mustache. Then he started screaming.
“I didn’t expect that at all. I woke up this morning and I had to let (out) all the doubt that’s been kind of following me,” Bennett said. “I just needed to ski. I needed to ski free and do a run that I know I’m capable of and trust myself and, yeah, it worked. That was quite the surprise to land and see green in the finish.”
Kilde, who started 10th, had already celebrated as if he won after edging Odermatt, who started sixth. Kilde and Odermatt were giving interviews when Bennett came down, prompting them to turn around and see what happened.
“That’s how ski racing is and that’s why we love it,” Kilde said.
Bennett rode BMX bikes as a kid, so the bumps in the Ciaslat suit his style. He’s never won anywhere else.
Still, it was a sharp improvement for Bennett after his best finish last season was 10th.
“This season I really want to move it forward,” Bennett said. “I want to move it forward to Bormio, to Wengen, to KitzbÃ¼hel, to Chamonix, and just really have competitive runs all season long. Because if I get the downhill globe, you will never see me ever again. I am boots off in the finish, on a plane, fishing boat, Mexico.”
The U.S. team has won the opening men’s and women’s downhills after Mikaela Shiffrin beat Sofia Goggia in St. Moritz, Switzerland, last weekend.
It was the sixth victory for the U.S. team in Val Gardena. The recently retired Steven Nyman won three downhills and Bode Miller won a super-G.
Bennett’s ski technician is Leo Mussi, who used to also work with Nyman – and four-time Val Gardena downhill winner Kristian Ghedina before that. In all, Mussi has accounted for nine wins on the Saslong.
In perfect conditions on a shortened course following snowfall a day earlier, Nils Allegre was 0.13 behind in fourth with bib No. 25 to narrowly miss out on a first career podium result.
The race was rescheduled from the yet-to-be-run Zermatt-Cervinia cross-border event last month. Speed races in Beaver Creek, Colorado, were also canceled a couple of weeks ago.
A super-G is scheduled for Friday on the Saslong, followed by another downhill on Saturday. Then there are giant slalom races in nearby Alta Badia on Sunday and Monday for a series of five races in five days.
AP skiing: https://apnews.com/hub/skiing