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Last Updated: Sunday, 12 February 2006, 17:51 GMT
Downhill delight
By Anna Thompson
BBC Sport at the Winter Olympics

Bruce Mickel, father of downhill skier Finley
Father Bruce was one of Finley Mickel's most vocal supporters
You could tell it was men's downhill day at the Winter Olympics when cow bells were being rung on the Sestriere streets even before breakfast.

Thousands of excited fans with their allegiances clear were heading to the finish area in nearby Borgata extremely early to get the best vantage point and soak up the atmosphere.

There were Swiss skier Bruno Kernen fan club members donning his name on their jackets and defending Olympic champion Fritz Strobl supporters with their huge banner.

Also on the slopes was an Italian Kristian Ghedina fan with a papier mache airplane on his head and flags from lots of nations - including a number of Union Jacks in the grandstand.

I told myself, do it, do it, do it and I did
Downhill gold medallist Antoine Deneriaz
Brit Finlay Mickel's clan were out in force - all 18 of them - with his father Bruce and brother Ross resplendent in their Buchanan tartan kilts and with bag-pipes in their hands.

Because of the strict security measures, the Mickels had to play their pipes to the mountain police to prove there was nothing sinister in the unusual-looking instruments.

It took a while for the grandstand to fill up but those who got in early were treated to disco music and a special drop-in from five members of the Italian world champion parachute troupe.

Finally at midday in Italy it was race time and Australian Craig Branch got the blue riband event under way.

The fans in the finish area had to watch most of the race on the big screen and were also treated to five split times at various parts in the race and the skiers' speed was also clocked. The racer only came in to view over the final jump to a tumultuous cheer.

Next it was the turn of Mickel.

His dad and brother stood up and played a traditional Scottish march called Mairi's Wedding as Quick Mick flew down the Kandahar course into first place.

A Brit was actually leading the Olympic downhill, well until the next competitor wiped almost a second off his time and then Strobl shaved more tenths off to put Austria into pole position.

Antoine Deneriaz fans celebrates their man's win
Deneriaz fans lapped up the atmosphere as their man won
He was overtaken by compatriot Michael Walchhofer, officially the heaviest skier at the Games, who almost did the splits at the top of the icy course but managed to keep his composure to take a big lead.

Austrian legend Hermann Maier did not trouble the podium and Americans Bode Miller and Daron Rahlves were also disappointing.

Switzerland's Kernen satisfied his fan club by initially skiing into silver medal position and veteran Norwegian Kjetil-Andre Aamodt, with seven Olympic medals already to his name, rolled back the years to move into third place with only a handful of contenders left.

The crowd went wild whenever an Italian headed down the course although it was not their day with youngster Patrick Staudacher their highest placed in ninth.

There was a nice treat for America's Steve Nyman when he raced into the finish area to see Happy Birthday Steve emblazoned across the large screen but as racer after racer got nowhere near Walchhofer's time of 1:49.52 it looked as though Austria had secured the gold.

But then it was the turn of France's Antoine Deneriaz who had been fastest in the final training run so started bib number 30.

Fritz Strobl fans show their support
Fritz Strobl fans show their support
The crowd suddenly took notice and began to cheer as the first split showed he was ahead of Walchhofer and he continued to get faster through the next three time checks.

By the time he swung into the finish, he was almost three-quarters-of-a-second ahead of the Austrian and the 29-year-old held his arms aloft when he realised he had won the Olympic downhill.

A year ago he had suffered serious knee ligament damage in a crash in Chamonix in France but had been determined to race at the Olympics.

He may have upset the bookies odds but Deneriaz had meticulously planned his comeback.

The Olympic champion said: "I told myself, do it, do it, do it and I did."

Mickel's clan also had an enjoyable day, despite their son finishing 25th.

Bruce said: "We don't get to see Finlay race often so it's great to watch him live at the Olympic downhill.

"We are proud of him and have had a super time. The crowd have been cheering every time we have struck up a tune and it has been magic."

Interview: Britain's downhill skier Finlay Mickel


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