Sullivan has career day in Olympic downhill
SNOWBASIN, Utah — Marco Sullivan has never finished higher than 27th in a World Cup race.
The Tahoe City skier picked a fine time Sunday for a career-best effort. Sullivan finished a surprising ninth in the Olympic downhill.
Sullivan was the best U.S. finisher despite poor results during his two previous training runs on the Grizzly course and a separated shoulder he injured a week ago in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
“I wasn’t nervous or scared about coming out here and laying it all on the line and showing people what I can do,” the 21-year-old said. “Nobody expected me to finish as high as I did, so I’m thrilled with my result.”
Sullivan’s ninth place finish puts him eighth among the top U.S. finishes in Olympic history.
“This is hopefully a launching point for my career,” he said. “This is the best result of my career (at this level), and I can only see it going up from here.”
Fritz Strobl, long overshadowed by more illustrious Austrians, took advantage of mistakes by teammate Stephan Eberharter to win the downhill.
Strobl, a 29-year-old police officer who had never won a medal in a major competition, was the sixth Austrian to win the downhill in the 15 races since Alpine skiing made its Olympic debut in 1948.
Daron Rahlves of Truckee, fifth in the downhill at last year’s world championships and the reigning world champion in super giant slalom, finished 16th in 1:40.84.
Lasse Kjus of Norway won his fourth Olympic medal, finishing second in 1:39.35. Eberharter, the pre-race favorite who has clinched this year’s World Cup downhill title, was third in 1:39.41.
The lanky Strobl covered the 1.9 miles down the dizzyingly steep Grizzly course in 1 minute, 39.13 seconds. After seeing the giant scoreboard at the finish area, he thrust both arms high in the air.
“It’s sensational. I didn’t expect it. I was just thinking of racing down the course, not of winning,” said Strobl, who until now has been overshadowed by teammates such as Eberharter and Hermann Maier.
Even without the injured Maier, Austria dominated the event, as usual — with three skiers among the top six finishers. Since the beginning of Olympic Alpine skiing, Austrians have won 16 of the 46 men’s downhill medals.
The top American was 21-year-old Marco Sullivan of Tahoe City, Calif., who came from the 31st starting position to finish ninth in 1:40.37. No other U.S. skier cracked the top 15.
Racers were cheered at the bottom of the course by flag-waving, cowbell-ringing fans, many of whom arrived after the start of the race because of massive traffic backups leading to the ski area.
Some fans did not arrive until an hour after the start of the race, long after the top skiers had finished and the medals were decided.
Eberharter, skiing ninth, got a fast start, but had trouble controlling his skis halfway down the course. His time was the best up to that point, but his lead did not last long.
The next skier was Strobl, who had a nearly flawless run. His skis bit into the snow, made icier and faster by injections of water. When Strobl’s time was posted, Eberharter hardly blinked.
Three skiers later, Kjus sped past Eberharter into second place. Kjus was the silver medalist in the downhill at the 1998 Nagano Olympics.
“It was not really my race. I made two or three small mistakes, in particular coming into the final wall,” said Eberharter, who remains the favorite for the Super G and is a medal contender in the giant slalom.
“I won the bronze, I didn’t lose gold,” he added. “There are plenty of races to collect medals. It’s not over yet.”
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