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Dramatic Falls: When Tragedy Hit Hahnenkamm's Races

The International Hahnenkamm Races is one of the highlights of the ski racing season and this winter this legendary race will be celebrating its 81st anniversary.

This season also the Downhill race set to take place in Wengen will be hosted in Kitubühel. From Friday, January 22nd to Sunday 24th, 2021 Kitzbühel will host 3 events of the Men's Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup on the Streif and the Streifalm: two Downhills and a Super-G.

Kitzbühel is the most iconic stop of the World Cup Downhill season. The climax of the Hahnenkamm races weekend is what is considered to be the world’s most challenging Downhill ski race: the Streif. Over the past nearly 80 years, this course has been putting skiers to the ultimate test and pushing them to their limits, with only the best in the world able to succeed and claim victory. For skiers, a triumph in the downhill race in Kitzbühel is like winning an Olympic gold medal.

"I would like to congratulate everybody who’s made it down this run. I think we’re all mad!", were the words of the five-time champion Didier Cuche from Switzerland, and perfectly sum up the feeling of conquering the Streif.

Bringing skiers to the limit sometimes translates into dramatic consequences. Over the years, the Streif has witnessed numerous striking falls and also destroyed some careers.

In the 80s the equipment and safety measures in the race were still very basic.

In 1987 Canadian skier Todd Brooker was racing down Hahnenkamm Mountain, in Kitzbuhel, when he lost a ski and crashed. It was scary to watch then and still scary today.

The 1983 Kitzbühel winner suffered a concussion, a broken nose, facial injuries, and a knee injury. He ended his career at the end of the season.

In 1989 another Canadian, Brian Stemmle crashed into the net at the Steilhang-Ausfahrt part and was then in mortal danger. With a smashed pelvis, he was in Innsbruck for days in the intensive care unit. Years later he returned to the Streif but had to end his career after another Kitz fall in 1999.

In 1991 American Bill Hudson crashed in the Mausefalle. He suffered a broken shoulder blade, a fracture of the fourth thoracic vertebrae, a broken spoke, and lung injuries.

In 1995 the Italian Pietro Vitalini lost control in the Traverse. He was thrown over the safety net and plunged down the slope, overturning several times. Not least because of the thick snow cover, he miraculously remained unharmed and finished fifth on the second Downhill.

In 1995 U.S. skier Chad Fleischer spill made international highlights. He mistimed a jump near the end of the course and was upended like a paper airplane in a wind storm.

The 50,000 fans crowded in the finish area expected the worse. But he was lucky and after a few moments, he got to his feet, took a bow, and walked away from the crash unharmed.

In 1996 several runners like Andreas Schifferer, Josef "Pepi" Strobl, or Lasse Kjus fell heavily during training. Schifferer suffered a traumatic brain injury when falling on the target jump and was in a coma for three days.

In 1999 Patrick Ortlieb suffered a fracture in his right thigh when he fell on the Hausbergkante. He also injured his hip and knee. The Olympic champion's career ended prematurely.

In 2008 during a training session on the Streif, Andreas Buder suffered a fracture of the right tibia head and had to pause for six months. The Austrian never fully recovered from this and ended his career in January 2011.

Also in 2008, on his 30th birthday, American Scott Macartney had a difficult jump and suffered a traumatic brain injury. After being put into an artificial coma, however, he recovered quickly and was able to leave the hospital after three days. In November 2008 he made his comeback in Lake Louise.

In 2009 during the last training, Swiss Daniel Albrecht fell dramatically in the last jump before the finish line and remained unconscious. The Swiss suffered a severe traumatic brain injury and crushed lungs. After more than three and a half weeks, he woke up from the coma on February 12th. 22 months later, he returned to the World Cup in December 2010. Albrecht retired from the World Cup in October 2013.

In 2011 Austrian Hans Grugger lost control during the training run in the mousetrap, hit his head when landing, and remained motionless. The Salzburg man suffered serious head and chest injuries. He was immediately flown to the university clinic in Innsbruck, where he was put into an artificial coma after an emergency operation. There was an acute danger to life. Afterward, it was no longer enough for ski racing and on April 24, 2012, Grugger announced his retirement.

In 2016 the falls of Aksel Lund Svindal, Hannes Reichelt, and Georg Streitberger overshadowed the race. The season was over for the Norwegian Svindal and Streitberger, both of whom suffered a tear in the ACL and the meniscus in the right knee. Reichelt got off relatively lightly with a bruised bone. The descent was canceled after the 30th runner due to the deteriorating ground visibility.

Ski Paradise
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