'Italjet' looking for liftoff on home snow in Val Gardena
By ANDREW DAMPF
Dec. 14, 2017
SELVA DI VAL GARDENA, Italy (AP) — It's the "downhiller's downhill." With long gliding sections and myriad bumps and jumps, skiers seem like deer waltzing through the woods as they negotiate the Saslong course's extensive terrain.
Yet for the host Italian team, the race has become something of a nightmare.
Despite a squad with three of the best downhillers in Peter Fill, Dominik Paris and Christof Innerhofer, a home skier hasn't won the downhill since Kristian Ghedina claimed the last of his record four victories in 2001.
The last Italian to win at all on the Saslong was Werner Heel in a super-G nearly a decade ago — which is surprising considering how much Fill, Paris and Innerhofer have won elsewhere.
"They've all got the ability to reach the podium in both super-G and downhill," Italy head coach Massimo Carca said.
Fill has led the season-long World Cup downhill standings for the past two seasons; Paris has claimed the feared downhill in Kitzbuehel, Austria, twice; and Innerhofer has collected five medals between Olympics and world championships.
What's more is that Fill, Paris and Innerhofer are each from the German-speaking Alto Adige region that Val Gardena lies in, at the heart of the Dolomites Range.
Fill is from Castelrotto, which lies just down the road.
The problem could be that the uniqueness of the Val Gardena course doesn't suit the home racers. Or that winning on the Saslong often requires a good deal of luck in terms of wind and sunlight.
"I finished fourth once and I can't really explain why," said Fill, who has finished outside the top 10 in all of his other Val Gardena performances over the past 10 years.
"The course is prepared perfectly. There are no excuses. I don't know why I'm not able to go fast here," Fill added after placing 16th in Thursday's training session.
Weighing in at 102 kilograms (225 pounds), Paris has the weight and skills to excel on the Saslong's gliding sections. And he has shown promise with a second-place result in super-G and a third in downhill — both in 2014.
"I feel like this would be a Dominik Paris special. And it's not," said Steven Nyman, the American who has won the Saslong downhill three times.
Nyman suggested that the demands and pressure of a home race have slowed the Italians — something he has experienced at the U.S. team's home race in Beaver Creek, Colorado.
"It's a heavy load between fundraisers and meetings and then there's the skiing," Nyman said. "It's always a relief to come here. I think that's another big reason why we do well here."
Norwegian standout Aksel Lund Svindal pointed to the conditions.
"This is one of those hills where you need more than being in good shape to win. There's shadows in and out, sometimes there's wind on the top section. I mean it took me many years to win this even though I was ranked very (high)," Svindal said. "But especially between Paris and Fill, it's a hill that they should be good on."
The course is particularly unsuited for Innerhofer, who does better on steeper and icier layouts with more turns. He'll be among the favorites during the next speed stop on the demanding Stelvio course in Bormio.
Fill, Paris and Innerhofer are known collectively as "Italjet." The speed-associated moniker was first used in the 1990s when Ghedina and teammate Peter Runggaldier found success in the speed events.
"This is another Italjet with three stars. I'm fortunate to coach them," Carca said. "They have a lot of respect for each other. They're three completely different people. They're different in how they ski and different as people."
"Paris is very straightforward. He's very tough, but he's also completely honest," Carca said. "Inner is more egocentric. He likes to be the center of attention. Fill is the most reserved. But he's also the guy who takes the most time to help out the younger skiers and explain the courses."
The team's focus for this season is the Pyeongchang Olympics in South Korea in February.
"We've been doing great on the World Cup for two years," Carca said. "Now we want to do well at the Olympics."
A win at Val Gardena over the next two days would also be welcome.
Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/asdampf