Super-G champion Innerhofer doubtful for downhill
A fever is leaving world super-G champion Christof Innerhofer doubtful for Saturday's downhill, potentially removing the race's sudden favourite from the sport's most glamorous event.
The Italian ski federation said that Innerhofer skipped the mandatory public bib draw Friday evening to stay in his hotel and rest.
Innerhofer won the opening men's race on Wednesday and posted the fastest time in downhill training the following day. In Friday's final practice session, he held back and finished 2.99 seconds off the lead.
In the space of little more than 24 hours, Innerhofer went from a promising but underachieving skier to the downhill favourite.
Before the fever struck, he had been trying to play down being cast as the man to beat in Saturday's downhill.
"If Innerhofer does everything right, it will be hard [to beat him]. His setup is good and he races really well, he has shown that couple of times this season," said Michael Walchhofer, the Austrian veteran who was 2.70 seconds behind Innerhofer in Thursday's practice run.
"What Innerhofer did today…I haven't seen stuff like that since Hermann Maier was showing everyone that he was two seconds better than anyone else. That's almost what Innerhofer did today," said Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal, who was 1.05 seconds behind in second place.
"This is the world championships and there is only one guy who really can handle it. That's kind of an unique situation," said Svindal, the Olympic silver medallist.
Innerhofer established himself as the favourite by winning Wednesday's super-G on the icy, very bumpy and shaded Kandahar course that has awed many veterans.
"There's no doubt that I feel comfortable on the Kandahar course and that I'm having an easy time not just choosing the right lines but also maintaining it despite the ice and bumps," the Italian said. "Anyhow, this training session might not mean much, because a lot of people are hiding themselves. Not everyone is going all out from start to finish but only in certain sections.
"The Kandahar is a really tough course because it has some very long sections in the shade without much visibility and there are a lot of bumps," he said. "You've got to just try to limit the damage in the tough sections more than everyone else."
Having said that, Innerhofer proceeded to put his training run in perspective.
"I think that training is not so important. Because we have seen many times where I was fast in training but in the race it was different," he said.
"I don't feel like the favourite. They say after every training that I am the favourite for the downhill but than you have other guys on the podium. I was on the podium in downhill two times in three years. Cuche ends on the podium almost every race," Innerhofer said.
"So I think the big guys are the favourites, like Cuche, Miller, Walchhofer."
Didier Cuche of Switzerland struggled with his goggles and was 1.82 seconds behind Innerhofer in fourth place, the same he finished in the super-G. Bode Miller of the United States, the Olympic bronze medallist, was 2.49 seconds behind.
"You have to attack, because if you don't attack, you have no chance to make a medal," said Cuche, who won the silver medal two years ago.
If Innerhofer feels comfortable on the Kandahar course, many others don't.
"It's a hill everyone usually likes to ski but I didn't have a lot of fun out there. It's pretty rock 'n' roll, icy, bumpy," said Erik Guay of Mont-Tremblant, Que., who was fourth in Friday's training run. "If you want to be competitive, there are sections that you have to nail.
"I think you are going to see some crashes in the finish of people that aren't in good shape. I came down and I definitely felt my legs halfway through the course and then across the finish line it was challenging to stop," Guay added.
Walchhofer said the course looks fine during inspection, "but with speed, you don't see all these little bumps. That's not easy."
Svindal was worried about the bumps and poor visibility.
"It's really the bumps and the light that makes it difficult," he said. "When the bumps hit you, it's too late. You should have reacted but you can't see them. You do inspection but there a thousand bumps in this hill, it's kind of hard to remember all of them."
"That's going to be one tiring downhill. I think a combination of the snow, how bumpy it is and light that makes it really tough," Svindal said.
Cuche is the only medallist from two years who returns. Gold medal winner John Kucera of Canada is injured and bronze medallist Carlo Janka of Switzerland has pulled out of the race to focus in the technical races.