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Cyprien Sarrazin, skiing’s unlikely comeback story, wins famed Kitzbuehel downhill

Frenchman Cyprien Sarrazin made his World Cup downhill debut 13 months ago at age 28. On Friday, he won the most prestigious annual downhill race in Kitzbuehel, Austria.

Sarrazin reached a peak in his out-of-nowhere rise in ski racing, winning the Hahnenkamm downhill by five hundredths of a second.

Italian Florian Schieder was runner-up, followed by world champion Marco Odermatt of Switzerland, who was 34 hundredths behind. American Ryan Cochran-Siegle missed the podium by one hundredth.

Up until last winter, Sarrazin was an injury-riddled giant slalom specialist who had never finished a season ranked better than 15th in any discipline. He’s suffered significant collarbone, spine, leg and head injuries, according to French reports over the years.

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Sarrazin earned his first World Cup win in a parallel event in 2016 in just his seventh start. He then missed the entire 2017-18 World Cup season and raced just three times in 2018-19 without qualifying for a second run in any of them.

He converted to speed races last season and showed early promise -- placing sixth in his third career World Cup downhill in December 2022.

“We knew he had the inner strength for (downhill,” Luc Alphand, the last Frenchman to win the Hahnenkamm in 1997, told ORF on Friday, “but then he was lost in GS, and now he is back to the roots.”

Last January, Sarrazin burned his face in a downhill race crash, yet came back to place 10th in Kitzbuehel six days later.

Sarrazin, who is from the Alps, has been on another level this season. He has three wins (two downhill, one super-G) and four other top-four finishes. In nine World Cup speed races, he has either placed in the top four or failed to finish. Nothing in between.

Sarrazin called Dec. 28, when he won his first downhill in Bormio, Italy, the best day of his life. What about this second downhill victory?

“It sounds unreal,” he said.

Another downhill in Kitzbuehel is scheduled for Saturday at 5:30 a.m. ET, live on Peacock.