Beat Feuz wins inaugural Sochi downhill

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- Emerging Swiss standout Beat Feuz celebrated his 25th birthday in style Saturday by winning the inaugural World Cup downhill on the course for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

American Bode Miller was fastest midway down but then made a big mistake and finished fourth, missing the podium by just 0.02 seconds.

After his third win of the season, Feuz was presented with his award by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev during the podium presentation for the country's first full World Cup race.

"This will remain an unbelievable moment in my life," Feuz said. "Winning such an important downhill on my birthday and then being awarded by Medvedev is just incredible."

Feuz raced down the long and highly technical Rosa Khutor slope in 2 minutes, 14.10 seconds. Another 25-year-old, Benjamin Thomsen of Canada, finished second, 0.27 seconds behind, for the best result of his career, and Adrien Theaux of France was third, 0.59 back.

Miller was highly critical of the course all week, saying there are too many turns to consider it a real downhill. But Feuz disagreed.

"It's a very nice course. It's a complete downhill," the winner said in comments translated from Swiss German. "Maybe it's possible to change a bit on the upper part but that's just a small detail. It's just too bad the Olympics are not next year and I've got to wait two years to come back."

It was the fourth victory of Feuz's career, having also won last month in the classic Lauberhorn downhill at Wengen, Switzerland. He trailed then-leader Theaux by more than half a second midway down but found another gear on the lower section and celebrated as he crossed the line and "Happy Birthday" was played on the loudspeakers.

"I hadn't been able to get a good start even in training, so I knew that today I really had to push myself, be aggressive, attack and take a lot of risks," Feuz said. "But I like these long courses."

Feuz's retiring Swiss teammate, Didier Cuche, finished 12th and held onto a slim 26-point lead over Austria's Klaus Kroell in the downhill standings, with Feuz 27 points back in third and only two more downhills remaining this season.

With a 100-point boost in the overall standings, Feuz moved up to second, 50 points behind Ivica Kostelic of Croatia, who picked up just two points with a 29th-place finish.

"It's a good message to Ivica today," Feuz said. "I'm making a lot of people nervous but I'm just having a great time and I've got nothing to lose."

Thomsen's previous best finish came last weekend, when he finished fifth in the downhill in Chamonix, France. But just a few weeks ago, he risked losing his spot on Canada's World Cup team and being sent home to compete on the minor Nor-Am circuit.

"I don't really know where this is coming from," the stunned Thomsen said. "I've been working so hard the last couple of years and it just took me until now to get a full run together."

For Theaux, it matched his best result of the season after also finishing third in November in a super-G in Lake Louise, Alberta.

With heavy security and the race finish halfway up the mountain, there were only about a thousand fans on hand, and the stands were only half full.

The top Russian finishers were Slovenian-born Alek Glebov in 44th and Andrey Bystrov -- who was making his World Cup debut -- in 45th.

The race was held in frigid conditions, with the sun moving in and out of a mostly cloudy sky, making the icy upper portion of the course extremely difficult.

Super-G world champion Christof Innerhofer of Italy usually excels on ice, but he was unlucky when his one of his skis dislodged after he hit a bump on the top, ending his run prematurely. American racer Erik Fisher also lost a ski and crashed through the safety netting, although he appeared to avoid serious injury.

A super-combined race is scheduled for Sunday, then the women's circuit arrives and begins downhill training on another all-new course Wednesday.