France's Antoine Deneriaz was the surprise winner of the gold medal in the men's downhill at the Winter Olympics. Skiing 30th down the Sestriere slope, Deneriaz came with a late charge to win the blue riband event of the Games, clocking 1 min 48.80 secs to push last year’s World Cup downhill winner Michael Walchhofer of Austria into the silver medal position, with Swiss Bruno Kernen taking bonze.
Deneriaz, a 20-1 outsider, had won three World Cup races in his career, but had never done better than eighth in a World Championship or Olympic Games.
The 29-year-old's career had looked to be over when he suffered a horrific accident in Chamonix in January 2005 tearing knee ligaments during a training session. He was airlifted to hospital after crash landing off a massive jump on the Piste Verte and was out for the rest of the season.
After his victory, he said: “I've been thinking of nothing else for the past year, but it is incredible that I am Olympic champion. I needed time to recover, day-by-day, race-by-race, but I was so sure I could do it.”
Deneriaz was confident throughout the build-up into the race. He won the final training run and while others were jockeying for start numbers, he was happy to take the traditionally unlucky No 30 start position. Luck also played a vital role. For about 20 minutes before he started, a cloud hung over the piste which hardened up the course and made it faster. Just as Deneriaz went to the start gate, the sun re-emerged from behind the cloud to give the Frenchman perfect vision.