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Ace Powder's Mountain Mayhem

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Alpine Skiing Monday, 11 February, 2002, 05:50 GMT
Delays at the downhill
Austrian fans at the downhill
Austrian fans had plenty to celebrate at the downhill
BBC Sport Online's Alex Gubbay made it through the traffic to savour the men's downhill at Snowbasin.

Make no mistake, having the opportunity to watch an Olympic downhill in almost perfect conditions is a huge privilege.

And I loved every minute of it.

But the three hours it took me to get from my hotel to the stands at Snowbasin tried my patience to the limit.

It wasn't as if officials could blame the weather, security scares or the wrong type of snow for not getting spectators and the media to the course on time.

There were simply too many people trying to cram into too few parking lots, and shuttle buses paralysing roads not used to handling so much traffic.

I got on the 7.30 coach from downtown Salt Lake and settled down for a pre-ski sleep, fully expecting to wake up at the sunny slopes in time for the 10am start.

American ski watchers at the downhill event
American ski lovers enjoyed the day

Instead, I opened my eyes around 9ish and saw we were still well away from the security checkpoint, in itself another tiresome delay.

As we finally inched up the valley, someone suddenly pointed to a tiny figure in the distance weaving their way down the mountain.

Everyone else on board realised the race had started, but preferred not to say anything in the hope keeping quiet would somehow turn back time.

I just crossed my fingers and hoped there were still of the first 15 racers left at the top.

Thanfully, there were, and I sat down just as Stefan Eberharter launched himself down the Grizzly Bear.

Others weren't so fortunate - more than 1,000 fans were still missing by 10:45.

But the atmosphere was still supremely colourful, noisy and infectious, with all manner of flags and cowbells on show.

Australian supporters were also present
G'day for the Aussie supporters

I marvelled with everyone around me as Fritz Strobl pipped Eberharter to gold, and then Lasse Kjus bravely split the Austrian pair on the podium.

Of the other skiers to follow, Pierre-Emmanuel Dalcin got a special cheer for crossing the finish line on one ski.

And Marco Sullivan gave home fans something to shout about by coming home a creditable ninth from a starting position of 31.

More than anything else though, I was simply struck by the sheer bravery of each man as he swept into view on the steep descent into the finish arena.

The downhill is the showpiece of a Winter Olympics and rightly so. It remains an event unparallelled for sheer drama and excitement.

And not even a leaking radiator on our coach heading back can sour my memory of Strobl's super Sunday.

BBC Sport Online's Alex Gubbay

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11 Feb 02 | Alpine Skiing
Irish skier's lasting impression
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