Marco Odermatt, the ski genius became king
The most talented skier of his generation has won the title of world champion.
When Kilde crossed the finish line 48 cents late, Odermatt jumped off the white fur seat on which the current leader of the standings was sitting. He has now used up the adrenaline he had when he arrived. He had shouted angrily: one, two, three, four, five, six times. “I’ve never felt like this before”, he will say later. Now Marco Odermatt is the quiet guy again and just choke one “Yes” before hugging his coach. Kilde smiles bitterly; he points at the Swiss with his gloved hand as if acknowledging his achievement. The thirteen thousand spectators at the finish roar their flags, their cowbells, their horns for the two champions. The direction returns to the Odermatt frame. He sat down again. His eyes are still watery and red. He squeezes her, closes his fists in front of his face, takes a deep breath and then a very tender smile.
The unusual reaction he had upon arrival is justified. Up to this moment, Odermatt (who is a technical skier, specialist in Giant and Super-G but still strong even in the fastest disciplines) not only had never won a downhill race between World Championships, Olympics and World Cup, but he never had won a medal in the various disciplines that take place at the World Championships. In the eight races he competed in, he had only managed to get past tenth place twice: a good fourth place in the Cortina d’Ampezzo Downhill in 2021 and a disappointing fourth place in the Super-G (where he finished as the leader the World Cup specialty was the favorite to win) just three days before the gold medal.
The genius of skiing
Many great athletes of the past have never won a world title. For them, the unpredictability of a biennial competition, with a single race for each discipline, was fatal. A mistake, a bad day, an injury, a less than optimal physical condition or other random factors such as wind, snow conditions and visibility can doom even the greatest. Until this moment The World Cup had never smiled, not even Odermatt, the world’s most talented skier. Frenchman Johan Clarey, silver medalist at the Beijing 2022 Olympics, said: “There were machines in our sport, but he’s a genius”. He defined it “the Roger Federer of skiing”and in fact, the two Swiss share the same elegance, the same ability to make complicated things appear simple, the same technical cleanliness and the same modesty.
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With regard to the sporting results, Odermatt does not make the comparison of Clarey appear too risky. In addition to the two gold medals at the World Championships that have just ended The Swiss, born in 1997, has already won seven medals at Junior World Championships (He even won five gold medals in Davos in 2018), a giant slalom World Cup, a gold medal at the Olympic Games in Beijing and a World Cup overall ranking. He has a total of 44 World Cup podium finishes, 15 of them this season alone.
Downhill gold and the rivalry with Kilde
The Courchevel Eclipse, the course specially built for these World Cups, is more than three kilometers long. Forty doors, 945 meters in altitude. Top values of 130 kilometers per hour can be reached. Florian Schieder goes first. Although the Italian commits some imperfections, the eight athletes who follow him cannot outperform him. However, Marco Odermatt crosses the finish line with start number ten, who will say at the end of the race: “It’s a crazy day, a crazy week. After a disappointing Super-G, the last few days have not been easy. But I still had chances. Today I gave it my all because I knew I had to do the perfect race to beat the others.”
In the first sector, Odermatt even loses 15 centimes to Schieder. However, when he comes out of the 53 meters of the “Saut des Jockeys”, he starts to push really hard. It’s always very clean, the lines it draws are perfect. He crosses the finish line one second and nine hundredths ahead of the previous championship leader. Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, winner of five downhill races this season alone, will start with shirt number 15. In the first sector it immediately turns green. At the entrance of the long shady stretch, as has happened to many athletes before him, he loses precision and loses two tenths of his initial advantage. He arrives 48 centimes late from Odermatt. Kilde calls him “an exceptional athlete” and praises his “mental strength”.
“The Odermatt-Kilde challenge continues and today was proof of that. He just skied amazingly. Really really beautiful. It was fun to see him skiing today.”, said Kilde at the end of the race. Then he added: “It’s a fun challenge. It’s funny because we’re humble people, we both try to make things right. Dealing with Odermatt is always a pleasure. There is nothing else that makes me happier. It’s a beautiful thing”. The characteristic feature of the rivalry between Odermatt and Kilde is precisely mutual appreciation and respect. Earlier Kilde had said about Odermatt: “He’s a great, incredible skier and he’s also a great, incredible man. He is always smiling and respectful. I love it”.
Prior to this edition, Kilde had also never won a medal in the twelve races he had contested at three different World Championships: the Courchevel Downhill was his second silver after the one he had won in Super-G a few days earlier (at this Opportunity had arrived just a penny late by Canadian James Crawford). 2020 World Cup Overall Winner, but in the current Kilde it is more than 300 points away from Odermatt. In fact, the Swiss has better technique on his side that allows him to be competitive in the giant as well, while Kilde plays it all in the fastest downhill and super-G disciplines.
After Odermatt’s victory in Courchevel, however, a new phase in the rivalry between the two is likely to have opened up. While it has always been Kilde who snatched a few Super G wins from Odermatt in recent years, the situation could now be reversed. If he could convert some of his very frequent downhill second places into first places (seven in the last two seasons), Odermatt could also become the best downhill skier in the world. But it’s a speech to be postponed until next season: For now, Kilde is firmly number one in the World Cup specialty rankings.
Gold in giant slalom
Five days have passed since the free departure. On the Eclipse, the start is at 1734 meters above sea level; instead, there are 454 elevation changes. In the first race, Odermatt, who has won nine out of thirteen giant slalom races in the last two seasons and was always on the podium in the other four, wears start number one. Especially in the intermediate part, the Swiss is not very precise. Kilde exits after a few doors. With a lead of 58 centimes over Odermatt, Marco Schwarz is currently in first place.
While the layout of the first run was designed by the Austrian’s coach, the coach of the Swiss national team decides on the second run. The snow is very compact. The route, the last part of which is completely in the shade, is covered by treacherous sheets of ice. Shortly before Odermatt and Schwarz, the Swiss Loïc Meillard, who is currently in first place with the best time in the heats, descends. Now only three athletes are missing. Slovenian Žan Kranjec slips to fourth place. It’s Odermatt’s turn, who starts 0.055 seconds ahead of his compatriot and knows that you don’t have to have the perfect heat to win a medal.
In fact, he loses 12 cents in the first sector, 10 cents in the second. On the third he risks falling but miraculously stops. Not only does it not lose speed, but it also earns a penny. And with the second half in the final sprint, he keeps a lead of 32 cents over Meillard. This time his attitude is the opposite of what he had at the bottom of the descent five days earlier. Odermatt has found his composure. He smiles and greets the audience. He knows he didn’t do anything special. Nothing special for someone like him: Because the only one who can deny him his second World Championship gold in five days is Marco Schwarz, who will lose his lead with the 19th and 22nd best times in the last two sectors. For Odermatt it is “another perfect day”. Another quiet day.
The World Cup giant and Marco Schwarz’s revenge
Meanwhile, the World Cup started again last Saturday. The Palisades Tahoe giant slalom looks like a negative copy of Courchevel. It’s like this this time Marco Schwarz to move up positions and currently rank first in the overall standings. This time it’s Marco Odermatt, who goes down last in the second heat and causes a sensational mess. The Swiss lands twice on just one ski: At the finish, three puny black horses separate him from Schwarz, his first giant slalom victory of his career. Odermatt shrugs his shoulders. It seems to say: “Didn’t I win that? Patience, I’ll win the next one”.