For Swiss, an Olympic skiing gold is good - beating Austria makes it great
One of the Winter Olympics' best rivalries – the Swiss vs. the Austrians in alpine skiing – has been one-sided in recent years. But a gold Monday and the promise of another Tuesday shows Switzerland is making a comeback.
Whistler, British Columbia
When no Austrian joined Defago on the podium, Leuenberger was ecstatic.
“It matters,” said Leuenberger, a Swiss fan from Bern wearing the signature Swiss cross on every available piece of clothing.
For more than two decades, though, the rivalry between the two Alpine nations at the heart of alpine skiing has been a colossal mismatch. Since 1988, Austria has won 28 Olympic alpine skiing medals, including nine golds. In that same time, Switzerland has won five medals, none gold.
But this year has witnessed the renaissance of men’s Swiss alpine skiing, and Monday’s downhill confirmed it. At long last, Switzerland has turned the tables on its historic rival, and Tuesday, it could provide the exclamation point with a win in the men’s combined.
Austria über alles
On one hand, Austrians are outraged by the success of any nation but their own. And for good reason. No nation in the Winter Olympics has dominated a single sport as thoroughly as Austria has dominated alpine skiing. Since 1936, its men and women have won 30 Olympic alpine gold medals, almost one-quarter of all the golds awarded in the sport.
But the Austrian-Swiss rivalry holds a special place.
First, it is Switzerland than has provided Austria with its greatest competition, historically. The Swiss are No. 2 on the all-time Olympic gold medal table, with 16.
Moreover, as the two European nations that sit astride the Alps, they are the stewards of the deepest traditions of alpine skiing.
Austria boasts Kitzbühel and its legendary Hahnenkamm downhill. Hahnenkamm’s Streif course is considered the most difficult downhill in the world. Meanwhile, Switzerland is home to the “Super Bowl” of alpine skiing: Wengen’s Lauberhorn course, which is the longest downhill race on the World Cup circuit and arguably more anticipated than the Olympics.