James Lawton: Defago shows that age is no barrier
Didier Defago’s time was supposed to have passed, at least as a contender in the most fabled event of these Winter Olympics, but no-one mentioned it to the 33-year-old Swiss.
So he took hold of the men’s downhill with the run of his life here yesterday.
It may not have been as ferocious as the Olympic descent of the great Franz Klammer, or as elegant as that of the legendary Jean-Claude Killy, but still it had to be weighed in gold.
He set a line and produced a certainty of purpose that ransacked the hopes of much more fancied contenders, including two Swiss team-mates.
His time of 1:54.31 smashed the hopes of America’s enigmatic superstar Bode Miller, who for a little while stood at the foot of the 3,105-metre course believing that he may just have re-launched himself as one of the most compelling figures in the vast market of North American sport.
But then the poor boy from the hills of New Hampshire had to watch the faultless descent of Defago, which removed Miller from the gold medal position and set a standard which more celebrated performers such as Carlo Janka, known as “the Iceman”, and another Swiss, the veteran Didier Cuche, just couldn’t meet.
It was not as though Defago was a stranger to Alpine glory, having won World Cup downhill races at the formidable location of Kitzbuhel and also Wengen. Seven years ago he was also crowned the downhill champion of Switzerland. But the beautiful style and technical skill of his countryman Janka, and the sheer know-how of the 35-year-old Cuche were considered much more viable credentials here.
But then it was Defago announcing that this indeed was his time as he became the first Swiss winner of the downhill since Pirmin Zurbriggen pulled it off in Calgary 22 years ago. When he slid to a halt after a run which was perfectly geared to an icy course which would soon show the slowing effect of sunshine, he fell back with outstretched arms as he saw his time and knew that the gold was almost certainly just a ceremony away.
“It was a crazy run,” he said, “because the conditions were different to training but I was very pleased as a I came down.
“I don’t worry about how people rate my chances. The important thing was that after three Olympics and my world championships I knew I had the experience to handle the situation.”