WENGEN, Switzerland (AP) — On a day when the World Cup speed record fell three times in a matter of minutes, no one could match Christof Innerhofer when it came to consistency and control going down the classic Lauberhorn downhill.
Innerhofer mastered the longest and fastest course on the circuit to win in 2 minutes, 29.82 seconds on Saturday, and then watched as the 160-kph (100-mph) barrier was broken for the first time in a World Cup race.
Ten minutes after the Italian finished, Johan Clarey of France flashed past the speed gun on the Hanneggschuss straight at 161.9 kph (100.6 mph) — the fastest speed recorded in competition in 46 years of World Cups. Clarey's top speed propelled him to fifth place, but he didn't have the consistency to match Innerhofer down the historic 4.4-kilometer (2.7-mile) course.
"For me, it's amazing winning at Wengen. It cannot be better," said Innerhofer, who clocked 158.8 kph (98.7 mph) for the fifth-fastest speed check. "It wasn't dangerous. I know people speak a lot of time about safety, but it's downhill."
Klaus Kroell of Austria was second, 0.30 seconds behind Innerhofer. Another Austrian, Hannes Reichelt, was 0.76 back in third after holding the speed record for as long as it took Clarey to come down after him.
It was clear that the conditions were right for a speed record after Carlo Janka of Switzerland set a new mark by clocking 158.7 kph (98.6 mph) in the downhill leg of the super-combined event on Friday. Skies then cleared early Saturday to ensure good visibility and hard-packed snow conditions for the lunchtime start.
"It's a good feeling," Clarey said of the record. "I felt it was faster than in training and it wasn't scary. It's a little thing in the race but I'm happy to have it." Clarey predicted he would "hold this record for a long time now," after two opponents held it for just minutes.
First, Benjamin Thomsen of Canada flashed through the straight, two minutes into his run, at 159.8 kph (99.3 mph). Reichelt then cranked it up to 160.34 kph (99.6 mph). Clarey's mark added another chapter to Wengen lore in the 83rd year of the Lauberhorn meeting. Switzerland's signature sports event drew 33,000 spectators by cog-railway and helicopter up to the race slope beneath the Eiger and Jungfrau mountains.
Downhill standings leader Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway never made it to the Hanneggshuss straight. After being fastest in the top section, he crashed into safety nets failing to make a left turn after the spectacular Hundschopf jump. He was not injured.
Svindal retained his discipline lead, with Innerhofer now second, but failed to close the gap on overall World Cup leader Marcel Hirscher of Austria. Hirscher, who skips downhill races, leads by 108 points and will be the favorite to win Sunday's slalom, which Svindal will miss.
Innerhofer's fifth career World Cup win was his second in downhill this season after success at Beaver Creek, Colorado, in November. The Italian has defied expectations after suffering through much of 2012 with back problems, which still require pre-race painkilling medication.
"At the start I said, 'yes Christof, this is perfect for you. All or nothing,'" said Innerhofer, who had been fastest on Friday in the super-combined downhill before finishing fifth. Innerhofer said one key to victory was attacking the technical mid-course, S-curves where racers slam on the brakes to just 75 kph (47 mph).
He won his first downhill race at Bormio, Italy, in December 2008, yet gained a reputation for peaking before race day. "In the past I was world champion in training," joked Innerhofer, the world super-G champion.
It was another poor day for the home Swiss men's team, which was boosted by a first podium finish of the season on Friday, when Janka was third in super-combined. Janka, the 2010 Lauberhorn winner, skied out on the Hanneggschuss, and 2009 winner Didier Defago managed just 17th. The best Swiss skier was 15th-placed Patrick Kueng, 1.95 behind Innerhofer.
The Swiss sorely missed 2012 winner, Beat Feuz, who is sidelined by a knee injury, and Didier Cuche, who retired last year. In truth, the race lacked the tension typically provided by Cuche and his fellow Wengen expert Bode Miller, the American two-time winner who is skipping the season to prepare for the 2014 Olympics.
Once Innherhofer, wearing bib No. 15, blew up the leaderboard, the rest were racing the speedometer as much as the clock.