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Downhill skiing has long been regarded as the pinnacle event in the world of winter sports. We will examine who the very best downhill skiers of all time are, including names such as Vonn, Klammer, and Heinzer.
When Did Downhill Skiing Start? And What is It?
Competitive downhill skiing began in the 1920s and quickly captured the imagination of the public. For spectators, watching skiers negotiate hugely technical and demanding courses is a true sight to behold. Their strength and courage are truly impressive and they have to be among some of the best athletes in the world.
In a slalom event, competitors need to navigate their way around poles that are spaced out on either side of the course. For downhill racers speed is a priority and so they adopt the tuck position, as much as possible, to improve their aerodynamics and speed.
It’s not unusual for competitors to achieve such a speed that they take off over the brows of hills. However, they try to minimise time in the air because they actually travel faster when the skis are on the snow.
Each competitor races against the clock, with the fastest skier being the winner. However, any falls in downhill or missed gates in slalom will result in disqualification.
Greatest Men’s Downhill Skiers
1. Franz Klammer
The first superstar of Downhill skiing was Austrian, Franz Klammer.
Klammer was an Olympic Gold medalist in the Downhill event in 1976, winning gold at Kitzbuhel when he was just 22. He capped off a memorable year by also winning the Downhill World Championships
It was in the World Cup event where Klammer made his name, winning the Downhill event on five separate occasions, including a dominant four-year spell between 1975–1978. In total, Klammer won 25 Downhill World Cup races, a record he still holds to this day.
2. Bode Miller
Bode Miller is one of the greatest skiers the world has ever seen. Miller hails from the USA and is one of only two men to win the World Championships in the four skiing disciplines, Giant Slalom, Combined Super G, and Downhill. Combined with his World Titles, Miller has won 6 Olympic medals. His gold medal came in the 2010 Super G, but he did also achieve a 2010 Downhill bronze medal.
His crowning achievement in Downhill came in 2005, when Miller won the World Championships at Bormio in Italy. He was also positioned a staggering 20 times when it came to the yearly Downhill World Cup. He won eight races, finished second on nine occasions, and came third twice.
3. Franz Heinzer
In the early 90s, the men’s Downhill was dominated by one person and that was Swiss sensation, Franz Heinzer. He would go on to win three consecutive Downhill World Cups between 1970 – 1973. He ranks fourth in the all-time Downhill records, winning a stunning 19 World Cup races. Sadly, he never won an Olympic Gold medal but he was crowned the Downhill World Champion in 1991.
4. Peter Muller
Another Swiss great who enjoyed a stellar career that spanned several years was Peter Muller. Muller ranks second in the all-time Downhill World Cup record, where he won 24 World Cup events.
Muller won the Downhill World Cup twice between 1979 and 1980 but would finish as a runner-up on four other occasions. He also won two Olympic silver medals in the Downhill event and would go on to taste Gold in the 1987 World Championship held in Crans Montana.
5. Luc Alphand
Throughout the 90s the Downhill mountain was dominated by Luc Alphand of France. He won three consecutive World Cup titles between 1995-1997. He would finish his career with 10 Downhill wins, amassing 23 podium wins in total.
6. Hermann Maier
Austrian Hermann Maier is one of the most famous skiers ever. A bullish and aggressive skier, Maier won legions of fans all over the world.
He was a two-time World Cup winner in the Downhill, and Maier also achieved great success in other skiing disciplines. In total he won 54 World Cup titles across all of skiing’s four disciplines.
Maier won Olympic Golds in both the Slalom and Super G events, but sadly never got close to winning an Olympic Downhill medal. He would however taste success in the World Championships, winning the World Downhill title in 1999.
7. Didier Cuche
Didier Cuche also ranks highly in the record of the best of downhill skiers. The Swiss skier was a four-time World Cup champion but missed out narrowly on both the Olympic and World Championship Downhill crowns.
8. Beat Feuz
Arguably rated as one of the finest Downhill skiers of all time, Beat Feuz still races competitively today. He was crowned season-long champion in the downhill in every World Cup season from 2018-2021
Feuz put the disappointment of his second-place finish in this year’s World Cup firmly behind him as he was the winner of the 2022 Downhill Olympic title. He combined the gold medal he won in Tokyo 2022 with the World Title he won back in 2017.
Greatest Women’s Downhill Skiers
1. Linsey Vonn
The most famous of all female skiers and arguably the greatest skier of all time is American Linsey Vonn.
Vonn enjoyed a terrific career winning an astonishing eight World Cup titles. She won six consecutive titles between 2008-2013. During these years, she proved herself as one of the best female athletes in the world, by winning the 2010 Olympic Games and 2009 World Championship.
As well as Downhill Vonn has won 82 World Cup titles across all of skiing’s four main disciplines. Her achievements have placed her second on the all-time World Cup record. Only the Swede, Ingemar Stenmark, ranks higher. As a symbol of her greatness, Vonn won the prestigious Laureus Sportswoman of the Year in 2010, becoming the first female skier to do so.
2. Annemarie Moser Proll
In the women’s downhill event, the first great female skier was undoubtedly Annemarie Moser Proll. Moser Proll dominated the 1970s, winning five consecutive World Cup events between 1971-1975. Further World Cups wins would follow in 1978 and 1979.
Proll complemented her World Cup wins with two World Championships in 1974 and 1978. She cemented her status as a Downhill great with gold in the 1980 Lake Placid Olympic Games. Her dominance and overall achievements mean that Proll is rightly considered one of the greatest female skiers of all time.
3. Michela Fignini
In the 1980s the women’s Downhill event was dominated by Swiss star, Michela Fignini. She won four World Cup events between 1985 and 1987-1989. She confirmed her dominance by winning the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo and World Championship in 1985. Fignini’s success in the 1984 Olympics came when she was only 17, and she still is the youngest ever skier to win a gold medal in Olympic history.
4. Katja Seizinger
During the 1990s it was German skier, Katja Seizinger, who ruled the slopes. Seizinger is Germany’s most successful skier and she won four World Cup titles between 1992-1994, and then again in 1998.
Despite never winning a world title, Seizinger asserted her dominance at the Downhill event by winning Olympic Downhill Gold in both 1994 and 1998.