Walchhofer's back-to-back downhill victories end Austria's struggles

Michael Walchhofer has single-handedly turned Austria's struggles into victories in only two days.

On Thursday, Walchhofer snapped a 13-race winless streak for the Austrian men's team. On Friday, he became the first skier to win back-to-back World Cup downhills in Bormio. No other skier had ever won two straight, even from one year to the next.

"It's amazing how quickly things can change in two days," Walchhofer said. "I felt like I could win today. I was thinking this morning about back-to-back wins. Yesterday I didn't have much confidence before the race."

Walchhofer skied down the 3-kilometer (1.8-mile) Stelvio course in 1 minute, 51.82 seconds.

Peter Fill of Italy was second, 0.22 seconds behind, and Mario Scheiber of Austria was third for the second straight day, 0.27 behind.

American skier Bode Miller finished fourth, 0.39 behind, and Didier Cuche of Switzerland was fifth, 0.50 back, to retain his lead atop the downhill standings.

Friday's downhill was the final event of the year for the men's circuit. Racing resumes with a giant slalom and slalom in Adelboden, Switzerland, on Jan. 6-7.

Until these two races, Austria hadn't won since Benjamin Raich took the season-opening slalom in Levi, Finland on Nov. 12. Skiing's "Wunderteam" was in crisis.

"It's nice not to be thinking about anything else in the start besides winning. This will help my team," Walchhofer said.

Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway finished sixth and kept his lead in the overall standings. Svindal has 579 points, Miller is second with 540 and Cuche third with 535.

Walchhofer had a near-perfect run but lost time on the bottom portion of the course, where Fill was superb.

"I found the right line, and I kept my speed to the end," said Fill, who has now finished second three times but is still seeking his first victory.

"I thought today might be enough, but I've got to keep working," Fill said.

Fill, fourth in the overall standings, is one of the few all-around skiers who competes in all five disciplines.

Like Walchhofer, Miller was also much faster than Fill at the final split, but couldn't keep it going.

"I felt I skied well but I struggled a little with my line entering that last pitch," Miller said in a news release from the U.S. team.

Marco Sullivan, another American, finished 12th, and Steven Nyman was 21st.

Nyman won the downhill in Val Gardena, Italy, two weeks ago for his first career victory. He said he was feeling pain in his right hamstring from a fall in training in Val Gardena, reports AP.

Olympic downhill gold medalist Antoine Deneriaz did not start because of a problem with his right knee. The French team said Deneriaz would be out until the downhill in Chamonix, France, on Jan. 20.

Walchhofer took the silver medal behind Deneriaz at the Turin Games and has won the World Cup downhill title for the past two seasons. This was the 11th World Cup victory of his career and it moved him within 44 points of Cuche in the downhill standings.

"Cuche is in great shape and he skies well on every type of course," Walchhofer said. "It's going to be a fight until the end."

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