BEIJING — On a previously unknown Olympic downhill course, securing a relatively unknown champion is a distinct possibility.
Spanish skier Adur Etxezarreta could be the one, 50 years after his country won its only gold medal at the Winter Olympics.
Etxezarreta has never finished higher than 47th in a World Cup race, but he has so far excelled on The Rock course, a slope that none of the top riders had ever done before the first practice session. training on Thursday.
The 26-year-old Spaniard was second fastest that day and seventh in a wind-affected second run the following day – although like many others he missed the gates both times.
Saturday’s third and final practice session was halted after three riders due to high winds.
“For sure after this training I did two solid runs and I think I can ski at a good level,” Etxezarreta said on the eve of Sunday’s downhill, which will open the alpine ski program. at the Beijing Games.
“Surprise or not, I don’t know, it’s not just up to me. The only thing I can do is ski like I ski now… for sure sometimes there are big surprises at the Olympics.
American rider Tommy Moe won the downhill at the Lillehammer Games in 1994 despite never having won the sprint on the World Cup circuit, and French rider Jean-Luc Crétier did the same four years later in Nagano.
The highlight of Etxezarreta’s career was a second-place finish in a lower-level European Cup downhill in Tarvisio, Italy, last month. It was the best result in European Cup history for a Spaniard.
Francisco Fernández Ochoa is the only Spanish Winter Olympic champion. He won the gold medal in slalom at the Sapporo Games in 1972.
“It sure is inspiring,” Etxezarreta said when asked about Ochoa. “I don’t know. Tomorrow I’ll try to do the best I can and we’ll see what happens.
Etxezarreta grew up in the Basque region of Spain and lives between San Sebastian and Pamplona. He started skiing with his family in the Pyrenees but now trains mainly in Italy.
He has an Italian coach – Adam Peraudo – and also trains with the Italian team.
“For us, it’s a big support to train with other big teams because I’m just a speed skier. So for us it is a good help,” Etxezarreta said.
After seeing Etxezarreta up close, it’s no surprise to Italian skier Christof Innerhofer that he’s doing so well in Beijing.
“(He) trains with us from time to time and many times he had the best time, ahead of all of us,” Innherhofer said. “Last year in Cervinia, when we were training there before the races, he also beat me by a big gap. He’s been skiing hard in training for two, three years already.
Test events on the Olympic course have been canceled for the past two years amid the pandemic. So with so little knowledge of the course and the potential for more wind, there are more variables and more uncertainties – which could lead to an unexpected face on the podium.
“It’s not like he has a very big chance, but he has one,” Innerhofer said. “It’s good. But there are a few here… (Max) Franz… (Bostjan) Kline, Miha (Hrobat). They are outsiders but here I expect surprises.
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