ST. MORITZ, Switzerland — Roger Federer picked a good day for a front-row seat to his first ski races.
Switzerland’s most famous resident came to St. Moritz on Sunday for a world championships double-header in marquee downhill races, featuring his friend Lindsey Vonn and home favourite Beat Feuz.
Vonn took a bronze medal she thought worth its weight in gold after an injury-hit year. Ilka Stuhec of Slovenia capped her breakout season to win and set up a duel for the 2018 Olympic downhill title.
The American star then completed her post-race interviews just in time to join Federer and his wife, Mirka, watching in the stands as Feuz raced to become men’s world champion.
Still, the biggest impression left on Federer — who won the Australian Open last month in 40 C (104 F) summer temperatures — might have been the below-freezing temperatures.
“I’m finding it cold,” Federer quipped in an interview with the French-language Swiss state broadcaster. “It’s not usual for me, especially sitting here in the cold.”
Federer, who has a mountain home close to nearby Lenzerheide, said he felt lucky seeing both downhills — the first time in 10 years the prestigious races ran back-to-back at worlds. Fog on Saturday had forced the scheduled men’s start to be postponed.
At 32, Vonn set a world championships record as the oldest ever women’s medallist .
“I’m old and I’m proud!” joked Vonn, who has four career medals in worlds downhills, though only one gold to add to her 2010 Olympic title.
It is now eight years and four races since Vonn was world champion in her specialist event, yet a medal here had often seemed unlikely.
She suffered yet another season-ending knee injury last February, and broke her right upper arm in November. That sidelined her until mid-January and left lingering problems with her right hand.
“The bronze feels to me like gold. I felt unprepared coming in but I did the best I could,” said Vonn, who ceded status as pre-race favourite to Stuhec. “I was not as confident as her and she outperformed me. She definitely deserved the gold medal.”
Stuhec was 0.40 seconds ahead of surprise runner-up Stephanie Venier of Austria, whose previous career-best downhill result was seventh.
Vonn was 0.45 behind Stuhec, who led at all but one time check and clocked the fastest speed of 125.6 kph (78 mph).
The 26-year-old Stuhec had no career top-3 finishes entering the World Cup season, yet took advantage of Vonn’s absence to win the first three downhills.
Victory was a shared triumph for the Stuhec family. Her mother, Darja, is the technician preparing her skis.
“I can’t describe it,” said Stuhec, whose mother joined her after several knee injuries cost her funding from Slovenia’s ski federation. “It’s amazing where we have come since then.”
Stuhec kept the world title in Slovenia as she succeeded the 2015 downhill gold medallist , Tina Maze, now retired though working course-side Sunday.
“Singing from the other side,” Maze wrote on Twitter between commentating duties.
Stuhec was even faster than all the men, after more light fog rolled in to keep them from their steep, mountain-top start on an adjoining course.
On a shorter track, Feuz’s top speed of 119 kph (74 mph) was slower than some rivals, but he stayed fast through twisting turns midway down.
Feuz was 0.12 faster than Canadian Erik Guay, denying the winner of Wednesday’s super-G a speed title double. Max Franz of Austria was third, 0.37 behind Feuz, who took downhill bronze two years ago.
“I felt the pressure,” said Feuz, favoured to repeat his win here in a World Cup finals downhill last March, through a translator. “I knew the expectations of the Swiss people. It was important not to go crazy with all that.”
Starting as No. 13, Feuz broke a tie for the lead after Swiss teammate Patrick Kueng, the defending champion, matched Kjetil Jansrud of Norway. Kueng and Jansrud were level at each of the first two check points, and eventually shared fourth place.
Feuz joined teammate Wendy Holdener, winner of the women’s combined event Friday when Vonn was fifth, as home gold medallists in the first five races.
Federer, the record 18-time men’s Grand Slam singles winner, looked on approvingly.
– Graham Dunbar, The Associated Press
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