SÖLDEN, Austria (AP) — After dominating the season-opening men’s World Cup race Sunday, Marco Odermatt took off his race helmet and pointed at the Red Bull logo.
The Swiss skier’s victory came a day after Dietrich Mateschitz, co-founder and owner of the Austrian energy drink brand, had died age 78.
“I hope I have given him something to take along,” Odermatt said.
“I heard the news this morning in the media. Then we spoke with the Red Bull team here and I passed my condolences.”
Another Red Bull sponsored skier, Henrik Kristoffersen, made the podium in third place and paid tribute to the late billionaire.
“He has done so much for our sport, for the skiers, for other sports. An incredible human being, and I am very grateful for what he has done for me and for other athletes,” the Norwegian said.
Odermatt, the Olympic giant slalom champion, lived up to his billing as the favorite for the overall World Cup title, beating the field by more than seven-tenths of a second for his 12th career win.
The Swiss skier had a near-flawless first run and overcame a few mistakes in his second on the steep glacier in the Austrian Alps to finish .76 seconds ahead of Zan Kranjec of Slovenia.
Kristoffersen finished .97 behind in third, ahead of Norwegian teammates Lucas Braathen, who dropped from second after the opening run to fourth, and Rasmus Windingstad.
American skier Tommy Ford posted the fastest time in the second run to climb from 26th to sixth position. River Radamus was the leading contender for the U.S. ski team after the opening run but dropped to 26th.
Odermatt held a big first-run lead of more than four-tenths of a second, but said he didn’t take anything for granted.
“I was not sure (the lead) was enough, this was really a big fight. The snow got worse and worse. Everybody made some mistakes,” said Odermatt, who also won the race last year for the first of his five GS victories on the road to his first overall title.
“You have to be mentally prepared. You have to face the challenge,” he added.
Odermatt won the sport’s biggest prize with a massive 467-point lead over Norwegian speed specialist Aleksander Aamodt Kilde last season.
Kilde, winner of the downhill and super-G titles last season, skied out in the second run.
While he is widely expected to successfully defend his title, Odermatt tried to downplay his dominance.
“I see a lot of competitors for the overall title. But all extra points I can earn now may help me at the end,” he said.
Kristoffersen, who was the only racer other than Odermatt to win a World Cup giant slalom last year, was all smiles after making the podium in the traditional season opener for the first time.
In a remarkable move, the Norwegian 2018 Olympic GS silver medalist switched his ski equipment in the offseason, leaving his long-term supplier Rossignol to join the new Van Deer-Red Bull brand founded by his former rival Marcel Hirscher, the record eight-time overall champion who retired three years ago.
While many regarded it a risky move, Kristoffersen said he never had any doubts.
“The advantage with the new company is that we can adapt things very quickly if we want. Van Deer-Red Bull is a racing company: the main goal is not selling skis but winning races,” said Kristoffersen. “But when you win races, you will sell skis, for sure.”
The race was watched by 14,000 spectators in sunny conditions under blue skies, a day after the women’s race was canceled due to rain and wet snow.
The men’s World Cup continues with a parallel race in Lech-Zürs on Nov. 13, after FIS on Saturday canceled the two Zermatt-Cervinia downhills scheduled for next week due to a lack of snow.
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