A golden prophesy fulfilled
True to his own prediction, Antoine Dénériaz was crowned Olympic downhill skiing champion at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, thanks to one of the biggest winning margins of all time.
Triumph from adversity
On 7 January 2005, Antoine Dénériaz was putting the finishing touches to his preparations for the following day’s downhill World Cup event in Chamonix. But during his third and final practice run on the Verte des Houches he fell badly, tearing an anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee to bring his season to an abrupt end. It was a bitter blow for a skier who had set his sights on victory in the 2005 World Championships in Bormio. But it didn’t take him long to come up with a new target. Mauro Cornaz, the head coach of the French downhill team, had rushed to his rescue on the piste, and Dénériaz, despite being in considerable pain, made him the following promise: “I won’t be world champion this year. But I will be the Olympic champion next year in Turin!”.
A year later, looking out from the window of his room in the Olympic Village in Sestrière, Dénériaz was able to survey the Banchetta piste, on which he would be competing for the downhill gold. “Based on the overall profile and the variations, its big jumps and lovely contours, I could see that this piste was tailor-made for me. I felt confident I’d be able to master it, and maintain my speed and rhythm over the whole course,” he explained. And, sure enough, during his practice runs he did just that.
On 12 February 2006, Dénériaz stood poised in the starting gate ahead of the Olympic downhill final. Having recorded the fastest time in the final practice run, he was the last of the 30 finalists to ski. The competitors who had skied just before him had appeared to struggle, slowed by a course that on which heavy use and an intense sun had taken its toll. As he pushed himself out of the gate, the Frenchman uttered the following words: “Do it; do it!” He attacked the slopes with confidence, his lines pitch perfect. Fastest at each of the splits, he maintained a lightning tempo to cross the finish line 72 hundredths of a second ahead of Austria’s Michael Walchoffer and claim the gold. It was the biggest winning margin in the downhill since the 1964 Winter Games in Innsbruck! Dénériaz had skied the race of his life. The following year, after retiring at the age of 31, he recounted the story of the triumph that he had so confidently predicted, in a book entitled My Olympic Dream.