PYEONGCHANG (Reuters) - Austrian great Franz Klammer says the winner of the men’s downhill in Pyeongchang will be the skier who hits every turn right and makes the fewest mistakes — and he thinks that will be Switzerland’s Beat Feuz.
“He’s really strong, he’s my favorite but also the Austrians are quite good, so if everything goes right we will make a medal, definitely,” said the 1976 Olympic champion, whose name is still synonymous with the glamour and danger of Alpine ski racing.
He also rates the chances of his countryman Matthias Mayer winning a second successive downhill gold — although with one important caveat.
“His prospects are very good. I liked him in training. He was loose, he was good. But he always makes some mistakes, so when he can avoid mistakes he will be up there and he could defend his title,” Klammer told Reuters in an interview on the eve of the Olympic race.
No man has won back-to-back Olympic downhill golds and the Austrian said conditions here would suit Mayer less than they did four years ago.
“The downhill in Sochi was very, very good for him because it was steep, it was rough and at that time he was the best in those conditions. Here it’s easier, it’s more grinding, you don’t have the advantage when you have guts and when you really attack it. So you have to be smooth and still let it run.”
The route to victory, he said, would be “not making mistakes, not missing a gate, not missing a turn. The key is to hit every turn right”.
In his pomp, Klammer was renowned for the fearless abandon with which he flew down the slopes. At 64, he still cuts an imposing, silver-haired figure, resplendent in green lederhosen and bright red socks at the Austria House where the Alpine nation makes its Olympic hangout.
It is clear he is nostalgic for the old days of ski racing, and the relatively benign course at the Jeongseon Alpine Center, designed by his old racing rival Bernhard Russi of Switzerland, is not to his taste.
“In my opinion it’s too turny. But that’s how they make downhill courses nowadays — it’s one turn after another, one turn after another. For my taste I would like to have some schuss and then make a turn, have downhills like they used to be.”
He laughs when asked if there is any skier in the field who reminds him of his younger self.
“I think Aksel Lund Svindal. He’s set up for speed so he barely makes the turns but he’s always very, very fast, so I like his way of skiing.”
At 35, can the Norwegian win?
“Of course he can win, he’s one of the favorites. So let’s say there’s one favorite out there like Feuz and then there’s Svindal, (Kjetil) Jansrud, Mayer, maybe (Christof) Innerhofer, I don’t know. So there are many out there for medals, but we’ll see.”
Editing by Clare Fallon