Matthias Mayer leads Olympic downhill after top 30

ANDREW DAMPF AP Sports Writer Published:

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) -- Matthias Mayer of Austria was in first place in the Olympic downhill after the top 30 racers Sunday and appeared headed for gold.

Only a surprising run by one of the remaining 20 lower-ranked skiers could deprive Mayer of the Olympic title.

Mayer finished the Rosa Khutor course in 2 minutes, 6.23 seconds. Christof Innerhofer of Italy was in second place through the top 30, and Kjetil Jansrud of Norway was in third.

Pre-race favorites Aksel Lund Svindal and Bode Miller were fourth and eighth, respectively, after the top 30.

Mayer was one of the first contenders to come down, with the No. 11 bib, and he hardly celebrated when he reached the finish. But his smile grew wider as all the favorites failed to catch him.

Miller was one of the fastest skiers on the top section but lost speed when he hit a gate on a right turn a bit further down.

"He pinched it off and went into the gate," Italian skier Dominik Paris said. "It was a critical section there."

After crossing the finish, Miller sat down on his skis with a look of bewilderment on his face. That was understandable, considering that the American had dominated two of the three official training sessions.

Svindal was also fast on top but lost speed when his large frame went soaring into the air over the big jumps lining the rest of the course.

Mayer is short and compact and appeared more aerodynamic over the jumps.

If he wins, Mayer would be one of the more surprising gold medalists in the sport's marquee race, as he had never before finished better than fifth in a World Cup downhill.

But Mayer led the second downhill training session and was third in the opening session.

His father, Helmut, won a silver medal in the super-G at the 1988 Calgary Games.

Mayer was not even supposed to be Austria's top contender but he was thrust into that position when Hannes Reichelt was sidelined with back surgery after winning the prestigious Kitzbuehel downhill on home snow two weeks ago.

Ski-loving Austria has won more men's downhills at the Olympics than any other nation, six of 17, but the last came in 2002 from Fritz Strobl, who happens to be from the same region in southern Austria as Mayer. So is Franz Klammer, who won the 1976 Innsbruck Games downhill.

Mayer has had more success in super-G, including a silver medal at the 2008 junior world championships and two second-place World Cup showings. Those super-G skills suited him well for the Olympic downhill course, which was extremely technical.

At 3.5 kilometers (2.17 miles), the Rosa Khutor piste was also one of the most physically demanding tests skiers faced all season. With three big jumps, one of which sent skiers soaring into the air for 70 meters (yards), it provided for a spectacular race.

However, the stands were only half full at the start due to an apparent traffic problem. They only filled up as the race wore on.

Skies were cloudy and the temperature was slightly above freezing.

The next event on the Alpine schedule is the women's super-combined Monday, followed by the women's downhill Wednesday.

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