- Associated Press - Sunday, February 9, 2014

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) - Christof Innerhofer couldn’t stop celebrating after he secured the silver medal in the Olympic downhill Sunday.

And who could blame him?

The outgoing Italian struggles with so much back pain that he doesn’t even train during the summer anymore.

Once considered a future overall World Cup contender after winning a medal of each color at the 2011 world championships, Innerhofer’s career now is a day-by-day affair.

“This was the only thing I was missing,” Innerhofer said. “I’m not one of those skiers who can win the overall or the discipline title. With my health condition that wouldn’t be realistic. So I go race by race and today I had my best run of the season.”

Innerhofer was faster than Austrian gold medalist Matthias Mayer through the first three checkpoints, fell behind by 0.01 seconds - the slimmest of margins - at the fourth interval and then ended up just 0.06 back at the finish.

When Innerhofer saw his result, he started screaming at the top of his lungs into a TV camera, “Yes! Yes! Yes! Yeah!” Then he collapsed to the snow on his back with his skis still on, continuing to gesticulate for the cameras.

“This is worth like 10 wins,” explained Innerhofer, who has six career World Cup victories - including one in the classic Lauberhorn downhill in Wengen, Switzerland, last season.

It was all the more special since Innerhofer had struggled so much this season, having not finished higher than fourth in any type of race; and considering his performance in the three official training sessions, in which he was fifth, 26th and did not finish.

But for Innerhofer, training is, well, merely training.

“I don’t think anyone else did the training runs the way I did,” he explained. “On the first day, I raced for the first 1½ minutes. On the second day, at the top, I skied like a tourist.”

During the third and final training run, Innerhofer pulled up midway down.

“Basically I only skied the first 30 seconds, and then I eased up,” he said. “Actually, I stopped. I hadn’t planned that, but I didn’t feel at full strength. … The training runs don’t count. It’s all about the race.”

Innerhofer is from the German-speaking Alto Adige region in northern Italy, and he loves the spotlight. So perhaps it was fitting that he earned Italy’s first medal of the Sochi Games - in any sport - and provided the Italian ski team with a much different start from the past two Olympics.

On home snow in Turin in 2006, the Italian skiers didn’t win a single medal. And at the 2010 Vancouver Games, only Giuliano Razzoli’s slalom gold in the very last Alpine event saved them from another bagel.

Innerhofer’s silver was only Italy’s third medal in the men’s downhill, after Zeno Colo won gold in 1952 and Herbert Plank took bronze in 1976.

“I don’t know if I should be happy or upset over those six hundredths, but the reality is I’m thrilled for the medal,” said Italy men’s head coach Claudio Ravetto. “Innerhofer spent 10 hours studying the video of this course point by point and he deserves it. Let’s hope that this medal is a positive sign (for more).”


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