Monday, January 24, 2011

Grugger's Crash at Kitzbühel Hahnenkamm

Not for the squeamish.

The Mausefalle is notorious for maiming and, a few times, almost killing ski racers. Ironically, in the time we've been Rolex Official Timing here (6 years) there hasn't been one crash in the Mausefalle.

Until TRAINING ONE, 2011.

Grugger is a really, really good downhiller. One of the 20 best in the world. Hard to say what went wrong. No wind, Extremely icy. Looks like he was just a fraction of a second late on his pre-jump.

Word is we almost lost him. When the medics reached him, his heart had stopped and he had to be intubated right there at Interval One. It's always a bad sign when the flight-for-life chopper drops off the medic and immediately RTBs and lands. If the skier is merely hurt, the pilot hovers for 2 minutes while the skier is bundled into the basket, then picks up the basket and the rescue worker, and off they go. The helipad is 200 meters from our HQ, so when Mr Chopper RTB'd and we were still watching a gaggle of EMTs working on Grugger up at the Mausefalle, we knew it was bad.

Benni Raich, an Austrian who has won two Crystal Globes (overall World Cup Champion), pulled out of the downhill after seeing Grugger's crash. Raich hasn't been skiing speed well this season and he's not really a downhiller anyway. He's arguably the best technical skier in the world, and only races downhill to try to pick up some points toward the overall. Very wisely, Raich took stock and faced the uncomfortable reality that even with 100% confidence, Kitzbühel is so risky that facing the Hahnenkamm at racing speeds with anything less than hubris is foolish.

Everybody around here has nothing but loads of respect for Raich, and his decision did nothing to change that. 4 or 5 years ago, Raich was in the gate when US downhiller Scott Macartney crashed in the Zielsprung and almost died. Raich had to wait around for 20 minutes while the EMTs worked on Macartney in the finish stadium, struggling to keep the American alive, watching it on TV in the Starthaus. When the course cleared, Raich launched and had a solid run. That takes a level of balls none of the "extreme" ramp monkeys in all of those made-for-TV sports can ever begin to fathom.

Only 55 guys in the world had the nut-sacks to attempt this race in 2011. Bode Miller, who also hasn't been skiing well this season, pulled himself together and laid down an amazing run. He looked like the sure winner. Then Didier Cuche, who has won here 3 times previously, beat Miller by almost a second.

Some truly amazing skiing. As US downhiller Steve Nyman said the other day, "Kitzbühel is composed of section after section where you can either become a ski racing god or a hospital patient. It all comes down to what you're willing to risk that day".

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