Didier Cuche: Saving the best till last
A super-G silver medallist at Nagano 1998, Swiss Alpine ski racer Didier Cuche saved his greatest achievements for the tail end of his career.
The boy from Bugnerets
No sooner had he learned to walk than Didier Cuche was hurtling down the slopes at Bugnerets, the Swiss ski resort his grandfather founded. In the years that followed, he developed his skiing skills while also becoming a trainee butcher; though by the time he made his FIS World Cup debut as a 19-year-old in December 1993 it was clear where his future lay.
A series of injury lay-offs delayed his progress to the top, forcing him to wait until January 1998 for his first career win. It came in the classic Hahnenkamm downhill in Kitzbühel, which earned him the honour of having his name inscribed on one of the resort’s ski lift gondolas, as local tradition demands.
Silver in Nagano
A few weeks later Cuche produced a barnstorming run in the super-G at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano (JPN), sharing the silver with Austria’s Hans Knauss, as another Austrian, Hermann Maier, took gold only three days after crashing out of the downhill in spectacular style. It would be Cuche’s only Olympic medal, however, with the Swiss skier finishing no higher than sixth in his eight subsequent downhill, super-G and giant slalom races at Salt Lake City 2002, Turin 2006 and Vancouver 2010.
Life begins at 30
Cuche’s celebratory ski flip, which involved him flicking his right ski up and sending it spinning in the air before catching it with one hand and kissing it, made him a favourite with the fans. It was a trick he showcased time and again after turning 30, when he took his tally of wins to 12 in downhill, six in super-G and three in giant slalom and his overall haul of podium finishes to 67.
Between 2007 and 2011 he won the downhill crystal globe four times, and in February 2009 he became the oldest world champion in history, following up his silver in the downhill by winning the super-G at Val d’Isère at the ripe old age of 34 years and six months. In recognition of his enduring brilliance and popularity, he was voted Swiss Sports Personality of the Year in 2009 and again two years later.
A race to remember
Another world downhill silver came his way in Garmisch in 2011, when he finished 0.32 behind Canada’s Eric Guay. That year also saw him secure the most famous of his record-breaking five Kitzbühel wins, as he turned on the power to beat the USA’s Bode Miller by a whole 0.98 seconds.
Cuche signed off the following year, during which he became the oldest ever winner of a World Cup race at 37. His farewell came on 17 March 2012 in the giant slalom at Schladming, a race he contested in traditional ski apparel and on old wooden skis borrowed from a museum, and which ended with him performing a trademark ski flip in front of his adoring fans.