Austria’s Markus Salcher regained his downhill crown on the opening day of Para alpine racing at the Lillehammer 2021 World Para Snow Sports Championships after falling one spot short of that goal three years ago.
Skiing third in the men’s standing class, the downhill champion from the 2013 and 2017 World Para Alpine Skiing Championships recorded a blazing run of 1:12.00 seconds in Hafjell and then watched his top rivals try to challenge that lead.
Once five-time world champion Arthur Bauchet came down to finish 0.38 seconds behind Salcher, the Austrian skier visibly relaxed and allowed himself a small celebration.
“My goal was a medal and that in the first race I beat Arthur. It is quite good,” Salcher said.
“I knew that I’ve got a good line in the race, I got the turns, which I didn’t get well in the training. I did it better in the race,” he added. “The time was slower than in the training due to the wind, but I knew that it would be hard for the others to beat me.”
France’s Bauchet ultimately settled for silver while RPC’s Aleksei Bugaev took the bronze.
FIRST WORLD TITLE
With Paralympic gold and four overall Crystal Globes to his name, the only title Jesper Pedersen was missing among his extensive accolades was that of world champion. He made up for that void on the home slopes in Hafjell with a convincing win in the men’s sitting downhill.
The Norwegian skier struggled with illness ahead of the previous World Championships. While he still managed to collect four medals there, he fell short of his golden hopes.
His chance to take gold seemed in doubt again on Friday as he made a shaky landing near the finish line, which had the spectators in Hafjell holding their breath. Not one to hold back, however, Pedersen made a quick recovery and crossed the finish line with a winning time.
“It’s perfect. I don’t think I understand it yet, but it’s just amazing to take the gold here today,” he said. “I knew that I skied very fast from the start to the bottom, and it became a gold. This is maybe for me as big as the Paralympics because it’s at home.”
Pedersen’s victory in the downhill dashed Jeroen Kampschreur’s hopes of defending all five titles at Lillehammer 2021. The Dutch star finished 1.66 seconds behind his long-time Norwegian rival to take silver.
The downhill champion from the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games, Andrew Kurka of the USA, also looked on track to challenge Pedersen’s lead at the start of the race, but then slid out to the side midway through the course. While he managed to recover from the slip, Kurka’s time was ultimately only good enough for bronze.
As for Pedersen, it was the first world title for France’s vision-impaired skier Hyacinthe Deleplace at his world championships debut as a skier. The former Para athletics star made it across the finish line in 1:09.88 seconds - the fastest run of the day across all classes.
Two Slovak skiers Miroslav Haraus and Jakub Krako claimed the silver and bronze, respectively.
ONE DOWN, FOUR TO GO
While Kampschreur’s ambitions of defending five world titles came to an end in Lillehammer, France’s Marie Bochet kept that dream alive with a golden start in downhill.
“It’s a good start to do that. It may be difficult to win the five, but it’s a good thing to win today,” said Bochet, the only skier besides Kampschreur to get a full golden sweep at the 2019 World Championships.
“It was a bit stressful at the starts so I’m happy to be at the finish line,” she added. “I tried to say to myself that it’s just a game and I’m lucky because I already won all I can in my career so now it’s just a plus, just for the pleasure and to enjoy it.”
RPC’s Varvara Voronchikhina came close to challenging the French ski queen, finishing 0.43 seconds behind to take the silver, while Canada’s Mollie Jepsen won the bronze.
As for Bochet, there was little left to prove for Slovakia’s Henrieta Farkasova at Lillehammer 2021. Her career includes nine Paralympic gold medals and 14 world titles, but the victory in the downhill in Hafjell was still a special one for the vision-impaired skier.
Farkasova was undefeated at the 2019 World Championships until she crashed in the downhill race and went out with an injury for more than a season.
Three years later she won gold in the same race, finishing more than seven seconds ahead of Belgium’s silver medallist Linda Le Bon. The Republic of Korea’s Choi Sara took the bronze.
Germany’s Anna-Lena Forster also had a confident run in the women’s sitting race and managed to upgrade her 2019 silver to gold.
Dutch skier Barbara van Bergen took the silver while Canada’s Kate Combaluzier claimed the bronze in her world championships debut.
The Para alpine races of the Lillehammer 2021 World Para Snow Sports Championships continue with the super-G on Saturday, 15 January.
All Lillehammer 2021 events are streamed live on the World Para Snow Sports Facebook page and the Para alpine skiing, Para Nordic skiing, and Para snowboard websites.
Pictures for editorial purposes are available on Flickr.