World Cup downhill surprise as Bryce Bennett ends five-year US drought

World Cup downhill surprise as Bryce Bennett ends five-year US drought

Bryce Bennett added to a long list of American success in Val Gardena by winning the first classic downhill of the World Cup season on Saturday.

Bennett joins teammate Steven Nyman (three downhill victories) and Bode Miller (one super-G victory) as American winners at the resort in the Dolomites.

For his first career victory, the 6ft 7in Bennett finished 0.14 seconds ahead of Otmar Striedinger of Austria and 0.32 ahead of Niels Hintermann of Switzerland.

Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, the Austrian who had won three straight races on the Saslong course, went off line toward the end of his run after posting faster split times than Bennett.

Kilde narrowly avoided crashing but could not recover in time to clear the next gate.

Bennett had never finished better than fourth (twice in Val Gardena and once in Bormio) and now can go to the upcoming Beijing Olympics with newfound confidence.

Olympic champion Sofia Goggia and her American rival Breezy Johnson finished 1-2 in a women’s World Cup downhill for the third time this season on Saturday.

Goggia stretched her unbeaten run in the discipline to a year, having won all seven World Cup downhills she competed in since 18 December 2020. The Italian missed the final two races of last season with a knee injury.

Goggia beat Johnson by .27 seconds, with Austrian skier Mirjam Puchner .91 behind in third. The rest of the field finished more than 1.3 seconds off the lead.

The result sent Goggia past Mikaela Shiffrin to the top of the overall standings, leading the American three-time champion by 10 points.

Shiffrin sat out the race but was set to compete with Goggia in a super-G on the same hill Sunday.

Goggia earned her 11th career downhill win and 15th overall with a trademark gutsy run.

She jumped farther than any of her competitors near the Telephone turn in the upper part of the course, picked a riskier race line than her rivals in the technical middle section, and reacted fast after her right ski caught a bump to quickly regain her balance without visibly slowing down.

Racing in contrasting style, Johnson had a cleaner run, stayed on her race line throughout, and looked in complete control.

It was the seventh career podium result for the American, one year to the day after she got her first on the same course. Johnson also has four third-place finishes but is lacking a win so far.

Several racers had faster starts than Goggia, but no one matched the Italian’s pace on the more demanding sections of the OK course, which is named after French skiing greats Henri Oreiller and Jean-Claude Killy.

Former World Cup downhill champion Ilka Stuhec of Slovenia led by four-tenths of a second and world championship gold medalist Corinne Suter was more than three-tenths faster than Goggia at the second split but both lost considerable time afterward, finishing fifth and sixth, respectively.

Suter’s Swiss teammate Lara Gut-Behrami missed the race after testing positive for Covid-19 following the first training run on Thursday, ruling the 2016 overall champion out for the weekend as well as two giant slaloms in nearby Courchevel on Tuesday and Wednesday.