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Downhill racing: 82-year-old tackles world’s ‘most notorious ski slope’

The third annual inov-8 Descent Race was held in Austria on one of the most difficult downhills in the world

Photo by: Michael Werlberger

While the likes of Eliud Kipchoge and Brigid Kosgei ran the flat streets of London on Sunday, there was a much shorter and much more treacherous race being held in Kitzbühel, Austria, at the same time. Athletes attacked the 350m course of the inov-8 Descent Race on the Streif on Kitzbühel’s Hahnenkamm mountain — the world’s “most notorious ski slope.” This was the third running of the Descent Race, and it was contested by a number of runners from across Europe, including 82-year-old Hubert Zohrer of Austria. While Zohrer provided one of the day’s best stories, he was understandably not among the top athletes, whose racing made for exciting and quick descents. 

How the race worked 

“The Streif is without question the most challenging downhill in the world,” former Canadian Olympic skier Ken Read told CNN in 2019. “It’s skiing at its best, skiing on the edge, the ultimate test of a ski racer.” If it’s that difficult for skiers — athletes who train every day to fly downhill as quickly as possible — then running down the Streif must be incredibly tough. Granted, skiers would reach much higher speeds, and they race down a longer stretch of the mountain, but still, the Descent Race sounds brutal. 
Just like an alpine skiing race, the Descent runners had to navigate their way around flags positioned across the course as quickly as possible, all while maintaining their footing on a hill that reaches a wildly-steep gradient of 80 per cent. Runners ran individually, each tackling the course twice. Their two run times were then added together, and the person with the quickest combined time was the winner.
 

The runs 

The 82-year-old Zohrer only ran one lap, completing the descent in 2:15. “It was very steep but great fun,” he said after the race. Zohrer’s time is impressive enough, but the winners were ruthless in their descents. The men’s winner was Rene Claussnitzer of Germany, who posted a ridiculously-quick opening run of 53.88 seconds. He fell in his second run down, and despite injuring his leg, he managed to get back on his feet and cross the finish line in 57.11. Claussnitzer’s stumble bumped his overall time to 1:50.99, opening the door for Austria’s Michele Roth to steal the win. It was a tight finish, but Claussnitzer’s 53-second run to kick the day off was the difference-maker, and he won by 0.40 seconds. Roth finished in second, five seconds ahead of third place. 

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The women’s race was much more spread out, and Austrian athlete Lisa Kröll won by 45 seconds. Kröll’s experience in the event (she won it in 2018 and placed second last year) helped her power downhill confidently, and she won with a final time of 2:44.86.