Guide to the Olympics: Downhill

Like thoroughbred racing but with more cowbells, downhill races seem to be the most captivating event at the Olympics. Go to watch the Austrians and ski racing’s favorite girl, Lindsey Vonn.
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Like thoroughbred racing but with more cowbells, downhill races seem to be the most captivating event at the Olympics. Go to watch the Austrians and ski racing’s favorite girl, Lindsey Vonn.
Lindsey Vonn

There’s something captivating about spandex-clad competitors hurtling down a mountain faster than most people drive. In downhill, racers willingly point their skis down an ice-impregnated, two-mile course filled with nail-biting turns and massive jumps. Not much has changed since the 1948 Olympic debut of the sport. Today competitors go a little faster, wear high-tech speed suits, and use every modern ski-tuning method available to shave off a hundredth of a second. But ultimately it’s still a question of who has the huevos to hold a turn on blue ice at 80 miles an hour. The undisputed answer: Austrians. Since 1948, they’ve had more Olympic downhill podiums than any other country. And in the men’s current FIS standings, Austrians hold the top three spots. If you’re watching this year’s spectacle in person, go to the grandstand at the bottom of Whistler’s Dave Murray Downhill course, where the final jump, named Hot Air, will launch competitors up to 60 feet into the finish line. Plus, you’ll be closer to beer and farther from the cursed cowbell ringers.

Ones to Watch: Austrians and Lindsey Vonn.

Austria’s Michael Walchhofer, who took silver at the 2006 Olympics, may be the crowd favorite. But instead, watch his countryman Klaus Kroell. He took 22nd in Torino and was 19th on the FIS circuit in 2006. Last winter, Kroell won the Hahnenkamm downhill with a broken hand. This year, he’s second on the FIS circuit and poised to upset the older Walchhofer. And don’t forget America's own Lindsey Vonn (left). Currently first in FIS downhill standings, Vonn has more World Cup wins than any other U.S. female racer.

Also, check out a guide to:

Ski Cross

Slalom

Moguls