BEAVER CREEK — For anyone not named Aksel Lund Svindal to win a super-G race these days seems, well, almost preposterous.
The Norwegian great has been virtually unbeatable in the event, the gauge for every skier.
“He’s Mr. Super-G,” Hannes Reichelt of Austria said.
Not on an overcast Saturday he wasn’t. Not on this tricky course with low lighting that had 21 racers spinning off the course and failing to finish.
Patrick Kueng of Switzerland was nearly flawless as he captured his first World Cup race and halted Svindal’s streak of four straight super-G victories.
Kueng finished in 1 minute, 21.73 seconds and then withstood a late charge from Otmar Striedinger of Austria, beating him by 0.24 seconds. Reichelt and Peter Fill of Italy tied for third, while Bode Miller had a great run going before a major mistake near the end to finish 14th.
“Unbelievable,” Kueng said. “This is just unbelievable.”
As racer No. 28 out of the starting gate, Kueng rushed down the course, making very few mistakes, and then glanced up at the scoreboard, expecting a good result but hardly his name at the top of the leaderboard.
Usually, he wouldn’t have anything to worry about, especially with the best of the best in the event already down the mountain.
But he had to hold his breath as Striedinger, the 45th racer to take the course, nearly eclipsed his time.
A big exhale.
“This just feels really good,” Kueng said.
Funny, Striedinger said the same thing despite being runner-up.
“When I saw second place, I just couldn’t believe it,” Striedinger said after his first podium finish. “Amazing.”
The surprise on this rather gloomy day maybe wasn’t so much that Kueng finally won a race. Or even that Svindal’s dominance in super-G was snapped.
No, the real attention grabber was the way Miller attacked the hill.
For the first 48 seconds or so of the race, Miller was doing what Bode Miller does best — charging with aggression and taking risks that few others would even contemplate.
The risk-taking rendition of Miller was back, in full fury, carving up a demanding course the way he did before missing an entire season because of a surgically repaired knee.
And then it all unraveled near the end as Miller made a big mistake to lose a chance at a win and a podium.
Still, Miller was pleased with how far he’s progressed. He’s quickly rounding into his familiar shape with the Sochi Games two months away.
“I was skiing really well,” said Miller, who’s from Franconia, N.H. “That mistake was just unfortunate. ... I wouldn’t make that mistake but one time out of 10, or one time of out of 20. It (stinks) to make it on a day when I skied that clean on the top.
“That’s what I expect of myself.”
Just like Ted Ligety is starting to expect good things in the super-G. The skier from Park City, Utah, is quickly shedding the label that he’s simply a giant slalom specialist. He finished in fifth place, 0.48 seconds behind Kueng’s time.
Ligety’s only regret? He wishes he would’ve had better light, because the course was pretty dark by the time he went. It was only after he and other top skiers glided down the mountain that the course because a little brighter.
“It’s happened to me before. It happens to everybody. It’s ski racing,” Ligety said. “It would’ve been nice to be on the podium. But I feel like I skied pretty well for the most part.”
Ligety will be the overwhelming favorite on Sunday in the giant slalom. After all, he is the defending Birds of Prey champion.
The way he’s skiing right now, Ligety could very well be a contender in the overall title chase. As it stands, it could be a three-skier race between Marcel Hirscher of Austria, Svindal and Ligety.
“Kind of looks like that,” Svindal said.
That’s why races like this could come back to haunt Svindal. A day after winning the downhill, Svindal just never found his rhythm, which doesn’t happen often on a hill that’s always been kind to him.
“I haven’t been off the podium in super-G for almost two years,” Svindal explained. “The other guys are too good, so if you make a mistake you’re not there.”
Fill is having quite a weekend at Beaver Creek, with his second straight podium finish.
“Two days ago, I’d say it’s not my favorite course,” Fill said. “Now, it’s one of my favorite courses.”