Tough slalom course and melting snow conditions make for a wild ride in Sochi's last Alpine ski race
Charles Krupa, ASSOCIATED PRESS
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — The snow conditions deteriorated so much that a difficult slalom course became almost impossible to ski — even for the world’s best.
Park City’s Ted Ligety was in sixth place after his first slalom run, but he missed a gate on his second run down the course that he called “borderline unsportsmanlike" because of the gate combinations, bad snow and steep hillside.
“Almost half the guys in the top 30 did the same thing as I did,” he said. “But that’s how it goes and everyone had to ski it. Not all the best guys had the chance to make it down, unfortunately, but it is what it is. I wasn’t one of the medal favorites here, so it’s not too frustrating for me. I would have liked to have done better, and I put myself in a position to have a chance. This course setup was difficult and it was a battle of attrition.”
The last Alpine race of the 2014 Winter Olympics turned out to be a contest of which skiers could simply stay on the course. While 39 athletes failed to finish in the first heat, about half couldn’t finish the second run.
Of the top eight skiers, five didn’t finish the course that Croatian legend Ante Kostelic arranged. His challenging setup and warm, constantly changing snow made navigating the gates on the steep slopes incredibly challenging.
Mario Matt of Austria became the oldest gold medalist in Alpine Olympic history when he successfully navigated the course in a combined time of 1:41.84. The 34-year-old earned the gold — which made three gold medals for Austria in these games. His teammate, Marcel Hirscher, won silver with a combined time of 1:42.12, while Norway's Henrik Kristoffersen won bronze with a combined time of 1:42.67.
“I knew the course was falling apart and everybody was watching guy after guy fall or blow out,” said Nolan Kasper, who was the only U.S. skier to cross the finish line twice en route to 13th place. “You’ve just got to keep fighting. You don’t really think when you’re going down the course, and I just wanted to try to have a good rest of my run.”
U.S. Alpine coach Sasha Rearick acknowledged the difficulty of the slalom course, but said overall the team had tremendous success in Sochi.
“It’s been a great three weeks of competition,” he said. “The Russians have done an amazing job of pulling this thing together. ... My expectations have been met.”
One of the high points, he said, was Ligety’s gold in Wednesday’s giant slalom.
“I’m extremely proud of Ted for pulling off that win,” he said, noting that only someone who’s faced that kind of pressure as a heavy favorite can understand the magnitude of his accomplishment. “That kind of win is the hardest situation. He put in a tremendous amount of work ... and to come away with that gold was huge.”
Rearick said that while the downhill was “a disappointment” and the super combined was a learning experience, he also felt the younger skiers gained valuable experience. He specifically mentioned Salt Lake City's Jared Goldberg.
“Young guys like Jared Goldberg, who was skiing in his first Olympics, showing he can compete when the time comes,” Rearick said. “Travis (Ganong), with fifth place, had his best place ever.”
Most skiers had either their best finish or their best performance in the mountains of Krasnaya Polynana.
While Ligety hoped to at least cross the finish line in the slalom, he can’t be disappointed to leave his third Olympics with his second gold medal.
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