'Like a parachute': Innerhofer battles gate in wild downhill

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SANTA CATERINA VALFURVA, Italy (AP) — With Bode Miller taking this season off, Christof Innerhofer has taken over the reigns of the World Cup circuit's most daring skier.

In a wild downhill that Adrien Theaux won by a large margin Tuesday, Innerhofer grabbed most of the attention by finishing fourth after skiing halfway down the course with a gate attached to him.

About a minute into his run, the Italian got his left arm wrapped around a gate and the bright fluorescent orange panel and long pole caught onto his equipment.

After about 30 seconds, Innerhofer rid himself of the pole but he carried the panel to the finish at speeds above 120 kph (75 mph) — earning the Italian loud cheers from the home crowd.

"Bode Miller's no longer around so there needs to be another crazy guy," Innerhofer said. "It was really at the limit and very dangerous. I couldn't see and I was carrying the pole and the panel. ... It felt like a parachute behind me."

Theaux won in 1 minute, 47.29 seconds on the dark and steep Deborah Compagnoni course for a 1.04-second advantage over Hannes Reichelt of Austria. It was the Frenchman's third career win.

David Poisson of France came third, 1.15 behind — the first podium result in the 33-year-old's World Cup career.

Innerhofer missed the podium by just 0.07 and Aksel Lund Svindal finished seventh, ending his run of three straight downhill wins.

"This is not my style of downhill," Svindal said. "This is Innerhofer's style."

Still, the Norwegian reclaimed the overall World Cup lead from Marcel Hirscher, who doesn't race downhill. Svindal moved 15 points ahead of his Austrian rival in the overall and maintained his lead in the downhill standings.

International Ski Federation technical operations manager Mike Kertesz explained that the gates contain one fixed pole and one that is designed to release in case of contact.

"Probably what happened is the gate panel came off the fixed pole but the outside of the two poles isn't fixed so it came with it," Kertesz said. "It's made to release and not wreck the athlete."

Either way, there was no stopping Innerhofer.

"What he did today was unbelievable — going 145 kph with his goggles covering his eyes," Svindal said. "I wouldn't have finished fourth — there's no way. That was ridiculous."

Ten of the 56 starters didn't make it to the finish, including several racers who lost a ski on the challenging course. Of the first six racers, only three completed their runs.

Defending champion Travis Ganong of the United States finished 17th.

"It's really difficult and you had to have the legs," Theaux said. "I just tried to ski relaxed. If you push too much you go off line and break your legs. I like this kind of course where it's difficult and there are a lot of turns. The difficult part is you don't see anything."

Poisson took the bronze medal in downhill at the 2013 world championships but had never had success on the regular World Cup circuit.

"This is a big result for me," he said. "It was a long time."

Poisson was among those voicing criticism when the annual race in Bormio was moved up the road to Santa Caterina starting last year.

"I have to apologize," he said. "This is a great course, and just as challenging as Bormio and even Kitzbuhel when it's rough there. You have to ski it with a lot of heart and dedication."

Those attributes are certainly not lacking in Innerhofer, who has battled back problems throughout his career but took a medal of each color at the 2011 worlds and silver in downhill and bronze in super-combined at last year's Sochi Olympics.

"I feel like I'm starting a second career now," Innerhofer said. "I don't fear anything and nothing can stop me, as you saw today."

The 31-year-old Innerhofer announced he hopes to continue skiing through the 2022 Olympics in Beijing — when he'll be 37.

"Skiing is my passion," the outgoing Italian said. "Why think about quitting?"

Nursing a big bruise on his arm and a slight cut on his nose from his escapades, Innerhofer didn't want to speculate over whether he would have won if he hadn't gotten the gate attached to him.

"I had a big lead near the end of both training sessions," he said. "So make up your own mind."


Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/asdampf

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