Didier Défago goes for gold
The margins in Alpine skiing really can be very tight, and that was never truer than in the 2010 men’s downhill. Switzerland’s Didier Défago won gold, but the gap between the three podium finishers was less than a tenth of a second.
Défago had suffered his fair share of disappointment on the Olympic stage. Vancouver was his third Winter Games and, despite entering four events each time, he had never won a medal. Indeed, surprisingly for a racer of his skill and experience, he had never really come close, with a sixth place in the 2002 super-G his best result to date.
In 2009, he provided a reminder of his credentials by winning two World Cup downhills, but there were others who seemed more likely winners in Whistler. It was Défago’s compatriot and namesake Didier Cuche who was the form skier and firm favourite, following his own two World Cup wins in the run-up to Vancouver. On the other hand, this was a curious and unpredictable downhill course, and preparations were restricted by warm weather and a lack of snow, setting the stage for a surprise or two.
The early pace was set by the USA’s Bode Miller, with Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal then bettering his time to top the leaderboard. Défago skied soon after, delivering perhaps the best run of his life to take the lead by 0.07 seconds. Cuche was still to ski, however. Ahead of Défago at the first split, he maintained the lead at the second checkpoint only to lose time in the middle section, drifting fractionally off the pace and ending up sixth. Défago, unheralded by most at the start, was the new Olympic downhill champion.
The performance and result represented a stunning return to form for a skier who had only managed one podium finish all season, and it was also a cause for celebration for Switzerland, which had gained its first downhill gold for more than two decades.