SOCHI, Russia — Matthias Mayer shut his eyes for a moment, his day’s work over.
If he had trouble believing what had just happened as he stood before the crowd it was with good reason. The Austrian struck a big upset yesterday in one of the Olympics’ marquee events, capturing the men’s downhill and upending the elite of his sport.
“It’s amazing to be an Olympic champion,” he said.
Mayer has never finished better than fifth in a World Cup downhill. That proved no obstacle in dismissing the preordained favorites — Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway finished fourth and Bode Miller of the U.S. eighth.
Among the eight gold medalists on Day 3 were: snowboarder Jamie Anderson, the American slopestyle queen who triumphed in her sport’s Olympic debut; Irene Wust, who showed why speedskating is Dutch territory; and Russia in team figure skating, likewise an Olympic newcomer, for its first gold in Sochi.
In a country where skiing is revered, Mayer gave Austria a jolt. A few weeks ago he was not even considered the nation’s best shot for gold. But he covered the Rosa Khutor course in 2 minutes, 6.23 seconds and beat Italy’s Christof Innerhofer by 0.06 seconds. Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud won the bronze. Miller, who dominated the training runs, was so unnerved by the change of visibility he thought he’d have “to do something magical to win.” That was left to Mayer, who enjoys good skiing bloodlines — his father, Helmut, won a super-G silver medal at the 1988 Calgary Games.
With Evgeni Plushenko and a captivating Julia Lipnitskaia winning the free skates, Russia took the team event without needing to worry about the concluding ice dance. President Vladimir Putin was among those in a crowd relishing this victory as the Russians drew away from the U.S. and Canada. Plushenko’s body has been battered by 12 operations and he had to convince his federation he merited a spot in Sochi.