Fear Thy Enemy: The Hahnenkamm Downhill This Saturday

Posted By: Zeke Piestrup on January 21, 2009 4:00 pm

Cue Darth Vadar’s theme music and roll the Hahnenkamm Downhill.  The fastest, steepest, scariest, and any other “-est” you want to slap on it, the Hahnenkamm Downhill is the most celebrated race of the Alpine World Cup season.   Three days of downhill training finish tomorrow, followed by a Super-G on Friday, and then comes Saturday.  The scene is Kitzbühel, Austria, where 50,000 spectators will be going absolutely bananas, watching the world’s best and bravest risk their lives for the glory of sport.

At the top of the course, athletes battle themselves in a mental showdown.  Former U.S. speed coach, Johno McBride describes the scene: “Standing in the start house is terrifying, even for guys who’ve done it before. The best athletes are able to ramp up their intensity and get angry at the hill before they leave the gate.”

The course reaches break neck speeds right out of the gate.  Zero to 65 in five seconds straight into the “mousetrap”, a massive jump followed immediately by a desert-road compression.  If the 260 feet in the air and compression-inducing G forces have not migrated vital organs down to the racer’s ankles, up next are three S turns into the Steilhang.  

The Steilhang’s translation of “steep slope” leaves too much out of the equation.  This is a hill where the Austrian army drills holes in the snow to pump in water.  Rock hard ice, on fall-away (reverse banked) turns with limited visibility.  In the early 1980s when three of the first six racers crashed badly, the next six racers all gathered their skis, walked over to the tram, and took the safe route down.  Vadar music, sound full. This course is beyond scary.

If you’ve yet to see the irrefutable evidence of Bode Miller’s unquestionable greatness, check the YouTube vid of Bode’s run from last year.  At the bottom of the Steilhang, Bode, coming in way too low, actually rode up onto the protective fencing.  Walking on water gets a second place to that feat.  But, the stopwatch of ski racing is blind to miracles, and Miller finished second.

This year’s race will be streamed live on the Universal Sports Website.  The countdown is on!

photos: (right, top) Bode Miller finishes third in the second downhill training run / Kurt Arrigo (top, left): starting gate, racer’s view / Daniel Forster



Zeke Piestrup ( More Posts)

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