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20 Януари 2012 - 11:15
Hahnenkamm-Races: Snow News, But Not No News
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ALPINE SKI. After yesterday's crisp temperatures and bright sunshine offered competitors and spectators alike a brush with nirvana, today was a disappointment. Low cloud, warm temperatures (relatively speaking) and precipitation - drizzle in town, snow higher up - led the Kitzbühler Ski Club (K.S.C) to cancel the third scheduled Downhill training run to protect the integrity of the piste for the serious events of the coming weekend. The skiers' efforts of yesterday would be their last on the full length of the Streif until Saturday; a rare day of relaxation and contemplation for the pros on the World Cup tour lay ahead.

Streif ambiance and signages, Photo by: Rolex / Kurt Arrigo

The weather forecast for Friday is not one to lift the spirits, with more rain and snow predicted. Kitzbühel is a mountain resort, and stranger things have happened, so waking up tomorrow to something more inviting is not beyond the realms of possibility. One thing to be certain of, the K.S.C will do their utmost to get the 72nd Hahnenkamm-Races underway with the Super-G at 11.30 CET. The lesser of Kitzbühel's two speed events starts from the Streifalm, and joins the Streif proper just above the Seidlalmsprung. The course is 2,150 metres in length, with a vertical drop of 526 metres. Typically, the top racers are stopping the Official Rolex Timing at a shade under 1 minute 20 seconds. Any precipitation will do little to dampen the fireworks once racing gets underway.

Ending an era
The current king of Kitz took the lull in proceedings to announce his retirement from competitive skiing at the end of this season. Didier Cuche, 37 years old, from Le Pâquier, Switzerland has been a force the alpine ski world since his entrance on the tour in 1996. Finishing six of his fifteen seasons to date in the top three of the overall Alpine World Cup standings, winning 6 crystal globes in individual disciplines with 18 World Cup race victories is a proud record. His silver medal at the Nagano Olympics in 1998 and gold medal at the 2009 World Championships are other notable highlights.

Kitzbühel though has always been his favourite venue. "Why announce at Kitzbühel? Because I always felt great here and had great success; it is the most important race, and means a lot to me," Cuche explained at his press conference. "Why now? Because it feels right in my stomach." Should his competitors be looking for an easy time over the weekend, they should forget it. Last year's win here made Cuche the oldest winner on the tour, and Cuche has every intention to write his name in the record book permanently, seeking his fourth full Downhill success, to add to his Super-G and Sprint Downhill wins.

Trophy fit for a king
Should Cuche succeed on Saturday, he will walk away with his fourth "Gams", the large, striking trophy awarded to the winner of the Hahnenkamm Downhill. Christopher Schroll is the second-generation proprietor of Atelier Schroll, Kitzbühel's goldsmith and Rolex Retailer. Christopher's father, Joseph, started the business 42 years ago in 1960, almost thirty years after Hahnenkamm-Races were first held. Some years later, Atelier Schroll cemented its relationship with the Races by making trophy for the Hahnenkamm Downhill winner. "The trophies were created by my father 25 years ago," explains Christopher. "They represent the symbol of Kitzbühel, the 'Kitz' or 'Gams' (a mountain goat). It's very heavy for a trophy. The material used is high quality, and, gold, silver or bronze plated. Each one weighs about 4.8 kg and takes around two weeks to complete."

The inspiration for the top section of the trophy is also part of the K.S.C emblem. In 1931 when the K.S.C was formed, Alfons Walde, later to become a recognised Kitzbühel artist, was asked to paint a design featuring a mountain goat on a blue almond shaped field. The "Walde-goat" has remained the proud emblem of the K.S.C ever since, and is a prominent feature at the Hahnenkamm-Races, not just the Downhill trophy.

Christopher Schroll has skied on the Streif in his youth, not as a racer he emphasises, but it heightens his respect for the competitors, and above all the winners. Like the rest of the world he is captivated by the Hahnenkamm-Races, commenting, "To properly understand how good the skiers are you need to watch them, then you realise it is really a difficult way to come down. My favourite location is the Zielhaus, where thanks to Rolex I get to mix with the racers, and really feel the atmosphere. It is something very special."

Kitzbühel and The Streif - Lindsey Vonn Viewpoint
Some may not realise that women took part in the Hahnenkamm-Races weekend up until the end of the1950s. Concerns about the Streif being too dangerous ended this tradition with the last women's race contested in 1961. Rolex Testimonee and three-time World Cup downhill champion Lindsey Vonn believes that the current crop of female ski-racers could manage the gnarly Streif in certain circumstances.

"I think that if the conditions were right and the course wasn't extremely icy as it is when the men ski the Streif, then it would be possible for the women to ski it," says Vonn. "I've always wanted to try and ski down whether it be during a race or just to see if I could make it. I think it would be a fun challenge," she adds.

Asked which aspects of the unforgiving and often unfriendly 3300-meter course she would be most intimidated by, Vonn responds with a laugh, "Every part of the Streif is hard, but the last sidehill looks extremely difficult."

And where does the 2010 Olympic Downhill champion think she could prosper on the vaunted course? "I think I would do well on the flat sections, but I also could do well on the section going into the Hausberg jump and on that sidehill."

Vonn, 27, who is competing in her 11th season on tour has experienced numerous courses and venues over more than a decade of travels, only a few of which she is tempted to compare to the mystique and big-event aura that surrounds Kitzbühel. "I think the only similar atmosphere that I've ever encountered would be St. Anton," says Vonn about the resort that last hosted races during the 2007-08 season. "We raced there a few years ago, there was a huge crowd and the course was extremely challenging. It's a men's world championship course. and I think that would be about the closest thing to the Streif."

In early December, following cancelled races in Val d'Isere, France due to lack of snow, the women unexpectedly raced a rescheduled Super-G in Beaver Creek, Colorado. Vonn easily won that event by nearly four-tenths of a second. "Beaver Creek would be another place that's similar to Kitzbühel," she continues. "We were able to race there this year and the atmosphere was just incredible. There were so many people and a completely packed stadium. The Birds of Prey is one of the most difficult courses that the men ski so I felt really lucky that we were able to ski there."

If not actually speeding down the famed slope above the Tyrolean ski village, Vonn would not mind an opportunity to blend in with the many thousands of fans, ski racing aficionados, celebrities and others who journey to Kitzbühel like a rite of passage year-after-year. "I'd definitely like to go there," says Vonn about Hahnenkamm-Races weekend. "There are so many stories about the party going on and I've always wanted to be not only a racer, but also a spectator. I think it would be a really interesting experience," she says with a laugh.

Relishing the Challenge - Carlo Janka, Rolex Testimonee
Making his fourth appearance in Kitzbühel, 2010 overall World Cup champion and Rolex Testimonee Carlo Janka is looking forward to the enormous challenge - both mental and physical - that tackling the daunting Streif presents as well as the unrivalled mystique surrounding the race which dates back to 1931.

"Kitzbühel is really special," says Swiss maestro Janka. "Unfortunately, over recent years news has been more focused on the serious accidents which have happened during racing, but Kitzbühel has a very important tradition and every downhill racer would like to win this race once in his life."

Janka, the 2010 Lauberhorn Downhill champion, has proven that he can conquer and stand atop the podium at the world toughest tracks, but has yet to show his true potential on the Streif. "The courses in Kitzbühel are very demanding and require a lot of experience," says the Janka. "In recent years, there have been sections where I did not perform perfectly, for example the traverse right before the finish. I hope that is going to change this year."

"What is very different in Kitzbühel than at other races is the mental challenge due to the difficulty of the courses," he adds.

Kitzbühel is one of the few stops on tour where Janka opts to compete in the slalom. Valuable World Cup points are on the line in Kitzbühel's Classical Combined. This hybrid contest is the last of its kind on the World Cup tour: Saturday's downhill run coupled with the two runs of Sunday's slalom determines the champion. "The slalom discipline is generally difficult for me," says Janka. "I am not a slalom racer and Kitzbühel is a very difficult racecourse."

As always, the longstanding and often heated Switzerland versus Austria rivalry is a prominent storyline in Kitzbühel. Incredibly, the Swiss have stolen the show, quelling the Austrian party by winning the Hahnenkamm Downhill in each of the last four years.

Janka would love nothing more than to match his Swiss teammates Cuche (2008, 2010 & 2011) and Didier Defago (2009), with a triumph at this prestigious race.

For detailed information about the 72nd Hahnenkamm-Races including entrants and results please visit the event website:

January 19, 2012


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