Mario Matt holds on for gold, as Ligety blasts course


Mario Matt of Austria captured his first Olympic medal by winning the men's slalom. (GEPA/Mario Kneisl)

Mario Matt of Austria captured his first Olympic medal by winning the men’s slalom. (GEPA/Mario Kneisl)

ROSA KHUTOR, Russia – Austrian veteran Mario Matt threw down a clutch second run at a most opportune moment, on an extremely tough course (more on that later), and captured the gold medal in men’s slalom on Saturday night, the final alpine event of the Sochi Winter Olympic Games.

Matt, twice a gold medalist at the World Championships (in Are in 2007 and St. Anton in 2001), had never before won a medal at the Olympics. He stood in the start with his teammate, Marcel Hirscher, in first place.

Under the lights at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center, Matt had 1.28 seconds to spare, his lead over Hirscher after the first run. And he gave almost all of it back, losing time, particularly on the difficult bottom pitch. But he had just enough cushion to wind up with the gold medal, by 0.28 seconds. His two-run time was 1:41.84, to 1:42.12 for Hirscher.

In third behind the two Austrians was Henrik Kristofferson of Norway, who finished the first run in 15th place, but had a brave second run to claim the bronze medal, in 1:42.67.

“You can tell yourself this is just a training run,” Matt said in the finish, “but when it works out like this it is incredible. A massive goal has come through for me today. … (To win an Olympic medal) everything has to fit together, and I was lucky in this case. I thought that today I would just ski and just see what happens. I approached the course with that attitude and it worked out.”

The medals for Matt and Hirscher gave Austria four in the past two nights; Austria’s Marlies Schild and Kathrin Zettel finished second and third behind Mikaela Shiffrin in the women’s slalom on Friday. Austria ended the Games with nine medals in alpine skiing, three gold, four silver and two bronze. The U.S. was the runner-up in the alpine medal count, with five, two gold, a silver and two bronze.

On Saturday night, the top, and only, finisher for the U.S. was Nolan Kasper, who had a solid second run and moved up from 18th to 13th place. “I knew the course was falling apart,” he said, “and everybody was watching guy after guy fall or blow out. You’ve just got to keep fighting.”

As it happened, the second run featured another devilish Ante Kostelic course set – the Croatian coach whose son, Ivica, was in the mix Saturday night. Ante Kostelic caught some flak for a tough slalom set in the men’s super combined. And this slalom course caught quite a few skiers, including the U.S. team’s Ted Ligety, who was within range of the leaders after the first run, in sixth place, just 0.86 seconds out. But he skied out halfway down the course. And afterwards, he had quite a bit to say about the quality of the set.

Slalom medalists Hirscher, Matt and Kristoffersen celebrated on Sunday night. (GEPA/Christian Walgram)

Slalom medalists, from left, Hirscher, Matt and Kristoffersen celebrated on Saturday night. (GEPA/Christian Walgram)

“The snow was really bad,” Ligety said, “and Ante set a really difficult, typical Ante course, which is borderline unsportsmanlike to set that kind of course on this kind of hill, but that’s how it goes. Everybody has to ski it. Not all the best guys had a chance to make it down, unfortunately. I wasn’t one of the medal favorites here so it’s not too frustrating for me.”

Ligety said the second run became “a battle of attrition. So many guys went out — really difficult snow conditions, not really the best venue for having a course that was not the most fair thing in the world. I had somewhat of a buffer on Hirscher. Given he had a great run, it would have been hard to come down ahead of him, but anything is possible. I don’t think anyone had a good feeling or a super clean run on this course. I knew there was a chance, but it’s slalom. I knew I was really going to have to lay it down in order to have any chance at all.”

While acknowledging that the course set was within the rules, Ligety said, “I think it draws an ethical question when you have a dad setting for a son — not that Ivica ever does well when his dad sets — but this is an Olympics. We’re trying to showcase our sport to the rest of the world, and I don’t think this does us any favors, especially when you have 12 guys in the top 30 go out. [10 DNFs, two DSQs] That’s not the ideal setting for that kind of stuff, especially when the snow is bad.

“(Ante Kostelic) has really variable distance,” Ligety said. “He sets into the cross-ruts from the run before. He sets really awkward rhythm changes. You saw up there, there’s a hairpin to a hairpin, but one was really straight going into another one that was super, super turny. That was what took out most of the field right there. It’s just not a course set you can ski in a typical, modern technique.”

While he didn’t care for the course, Ligety had nothing but praise for gold medalist Matt. “Mario is one of the best slalom skiers in history,” said Ligety. “He’s had a long career, a lot of ups and downs, but he’s come through in a lot of major events, so no big surprise there. He especially excels when it’s not great snow conditions.”

As he had after his father’s combined slalom course was criticized, Ivica Kostelic defended the set. “We will hear a lot about this course,” he said. “Even if it is negative, it was a spectacle for spectators. At the Olympic Games the course should be challenging. The guys on the podium deserve to be there. Skiers who train in tough conditions appreciate hard courses. They train hard and appreciate conditions like this. … There are always many critics because there are few of them that are good. The winners that are here are not here accidentally.”

Ligety, however, was not the only one criticizing the course set. Alexis Pinturault of France, one of the top slalom skiers in the world, was given the bum’s rush by Ante Kostelic courses twice in these Olympics, in the combined slalom, and Saturday night.

“I think it is not normal that the same person designs the course twice,” Pinturault said. “A slalom is a slalom. At some point you had to go uphill. We are supposed to go downhill. … It is not good for the image of skiing. I wanted to take risks and finished on my back, but I have a medal (bronze in giant slalom) and it is still okay.”

View more photos from this race in our gallery here.

 

THE SCOOP

By Hank McKee

Men’s Olympic slalom, Sochi, Russia, Feb. 22, 2014. … It is the tenth and final alpine event of the 22nd Winter Olympics at the Rosa Khutor facility. … It is the 36th Olympic slalom, the 18th for men. … Austrians have won seven, Germany three, Canada one, Croatia one, France four, Italy four, Liechtenstein one, Norway two, Spain one, Switzerland three, Sweden two, U.S. five. It is 45 degrees Fahrenheit at the start and 50 at the bottom for first run. It is a night race and there are 117 starters.

It is the second Olympic result for Mario Matt, the first medal and his first finish in slalom. … It is his second win and third podium of the season, all in slalom. … It is the 34th Olympic gold medal for Austria… the ninth alpine medal and third gold of these Games.

It is the first Olympic medal for Marcel Hirscher who had finished fourth in two Olympic GS’s. … It is his 13th podium result of the season.

It is the first Olympic medal for Henrik Kristoffersen. … It is his fifth podium result of the season. … He is the 17th Norwegian to earn an alpine Olympic medal.

It is the best of two Olympic results for Nolan Kasper. … He was 24th in slalom in 2010. … It is the second best Olympic result for Michael Janyk after a 13th in slalom in 2010. … It is a career-best Olympic finish for Philip Brown.

Final alpine medal count: Austria 3 gold, 4 silver, 2 bronze; Canada 1 bronze; Croatia 1 silver; France 1 silver, 1 bronze; Germany 1 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze; Italy 1 silver, 1 bronze; Norway 1 gold, 2 bronze; Slovenia 2 gold; Switzerland 2 gold, 1 bronze; U.S. 2 gold, 1 silver, 2 bronze.

 

RESULTS

Rank Bib FIS Code Name Year Nation Run 1 Run 2 Total Time Diff. FIS Points
 1  3  50707 MATT Mario 1979 AUT  46.70  55.14  1:41.84  0.00
 2  4  53831 HIRSCHER Marcel 1989 AUT  47.98  54.14  1:42.12  +0.28  1.70
 3  5  422304 KRISTOFFERSEN Henrik 1994 NOR  48.49  54.18  1:42.67  +0.83  5.05
 4  17  293797 GROSS Stefano 1986 ITA  47.45  55.27  1:42.72  +0.88  5.36
 4  9  202462 DOPFER Fritz 1987 GER  48.46  54.26  1:42.72  +0.88  5.36
 6  30  700830 ZAMPA Adam 1990 SVK  49.34  53.94  1:43.28  +1.44  8.77
 7  14  500656 LARSSON Markus 1979 SWE  48.04  55.56  1:43.60  +1.76  10.71
 7  2  501111 HARGIN Mattias 1985 SWE  47.45  56.15  1:43.60  +1.76  10.71
 9  27  422082 SOLEVAAG Sebastian-Foss 1991 NOR  49.08  55.03  1:44.11  +2.27  13.82
 9  8  380260 KOSTELIC Ivica 1979 CRO  48.75  55.36  1:44.11  +2.27  13.82
 11  25  560355 VALENCIC Mitja 1978 SLO  48.32  55.82  1:44.14  +2.30  14.00
 12  28  421669 HAUGEN Leif Kristian 1987 NOR  48.83  55.38  1:44.21  +2.37  14.43
 13  31  532138 KASPER Nolan 1989 USA  48.70  55.52  1:44.22  +2.38  14.49
 14  24  480736 KHOROSHILOV Alexander 1984 RUS  48.71  55.52  1:44.23  +2.39  14.55
 15  34  191459 LIZEROUX Julien 1979 FRA  48.69  55.63  1:44.32  +2.48  15.10
 16  26  102435 JANYK Michael 1982 CAN  48.82  55.54  1:44.36  +2.52  15.34
 17  35  220689 RYDING David 1986 GBR  49.40  56.51  1:45.91  +4.07  24.78
 18  39  380290 SAMSAL Dalibor 1985 CRO  50.71  58.28  1:48.99  +7.15  43.53
 19  37  511902 ZENHAEUSERN Ramon 1992 SUI  51.01  58.39  1:49.40  +7.56  46.03
 20  38  103676 BROWN Philip 1991 CAN  49.97  59.68  1:49.65  +7.81  47.55
 21  69  460060 BARBU Alexandru 1987 ROU  52.82  59.84  1:52.66  +10.82  65.87
 22  68  680041 ABRAMASHVILI Iason 1988 GEO  52.59  1:00.78  1:53.37  +11.53  70.19
 23  52  430633 JASICZEK Michal 1994 POL  52.88  1:00.60  1:53.48  +11.64  70.86
 24  71  350095 PFIFFNER Marco 1994 LIE  53.46  1:02.02  1:55.48  +13.64  83.04
 25  63  410365 BARWOOD Adam 1992 NZL  54.21  1:01.97  1:56.18  +14.34  87.30
 26  75  390035 SMITH Warren Cummings 1992 EST  55.08  1:02.20  1:57.28  +15.44  94.00
 27  90  550061 ONSKULIS Martins 1994 LAT  56.16  1:01.44  1:57.60  +15.76  95.95
 28  51  380334 VIDOVIC Matej 1993 CRO  51.74  1:06.07  1:57.81  +15.97  97.23
 29  84  750088 RISTEVSKI Antonio 1989 MKD  55.38  1:03.06  1:58.44  +16.60  101.06
 30  78  260110 KIYADARBANDSARI Mohammad 1989 IRA  55.09  1:03.78  1:58.87  +17.03  103.68
 31  83  260079 SAVEH SHEMSHAKI Hossein 1985 IRA  55.46  1:03.90  1:59.36  +17.52  106.66
 32  80  491876 PUENTE TASIAS Alex 1994 SPA  53.73  1:05.72  1:59.45  +17.61  107.21
 33  53  481327 TRIKHICHEV Pavel 1992 RUS  51.63  1:08.16  1:59.79  +17.95  109.28
 34  91  740031 SEREBRAKIAN Arman 1987 ARM  55.90  1:04.67  2:00.57  +18.73  114.03
 35  95  230147 SYKARAS Konstantinos 1984 GRE  57.83  1:06.25  2:04.08  +22.24  135.40
 36  72  250259 GUDMUNDSSON Brynjar Jokull 1989 ISL  56.85  1:07.72  2:04.57  +22.73  138.38
 37  100  230659 VALCAREGGI Massimiliano 1995 GRE  58.97  1:06.75  2:05.72  +23.88  145.38
 38  106  310412 HADZIC Tarik 1994 MNE  1:00.95  1:06.99  2:07.94  +26.10  158.90
 39  108  210032 VORONOV Artem 1993 UZB  1:00.42  1:10.54  2:10.96  +29.12  177.28
 40  107  270055 LYNE Conor 1993 IRE  1:03.58  1:09.71  2:13.29  +31.45  191.47
 41  110  770015 TIMOFEEV Evgeniy 1994 KGZ  1:02.47  1:12.96  2:15.43  +33.59  204.50
 42  111  340305 MOHBAT Alexandre 1995 LIB  1:03.77  1:18.02  2:21.79  +39.95  243.21
 43  117  960300 GOUTT Yohan Goncalves 1994 TLS  1:09.01  1:21.88  2:30.89  +49.05  298.62
Disqualified 2nd run
 102  690722 MYTSAK Dmytro 1995 UKR
 97  80063 LONGHI Jhonatan 1988 BRA
 33  102912 SPENCE Brad 1984 CAN
 29  511996 YULE Daniel 1993 SUI
 23  501223 BAECK Axel 1987 SWE
Did not start 1st run
 99  800013 TOLA Erjon 1986 ALB
 48  150398 BANK Ondrej 1980 CZE
Did not finish 2nd run
 114  958400 TRAVERS Dow 1987 CAY
 109  950000 OETTL REYES Manfred 1993 PER
 94  240132 FARKAS Norbert 1992 HUN
 93  110320 CLARO Eugenio 1993 CHI
 92  40523 DEMSCHAR Dominic 1993 AUS
 87  790025 LAMHAMEDI Adam 1995 MAR
 82  700879 ZAMPA Andreas 1993 SVK
 77  370022 JENOT Olivier 1988 MON
 74  430466 GARNIEWICZ Mateusz 1990 POL
 73  710320 LAIKERT Igor 1991 BIH
 67  30266 GASTALDI Sebastiano 1991 ARG
 59  92534 CHONGAROV Nikola 1989 BUL
 58  250348 KRISTGEIRSSON Einar Kristinn 1994 ISL
 47  150594 TREJBAL Filip 1985 CZE
 46  380292 ZRNCIC-DIM Natko 1986 CRO
 44  511896 MURISIER Justin 1992 SUI
 42  103865 PHILP Trevor 1992 CAN
 41  202437 LUITZ Stefan 1992 GER
 40  150644 KRYZL Krystof 1986 CZE
 36  180703 PALONIEMI Santeri 1993 FIN
 32  301312 SASAKI Akira 1981 JPN
 22  293098 RAZZOLI Giuliano 1984 ITA
 19  301709 YUASA Naoki 1983 JPN
 16  534562 LIGETY Ted 1984 USA
 15  292491 MOELGG Manfred 1982 ITA
 12  192665 GRANGE Jean-Baptiste 1984 FRA
 10  194364 PINTURAULT Alexis 1991 FRA
 7  201702 NEUREUTHER Felix 1984 GER
 1  501017 MYHRER Andre 1983 SWE
Did not finish 1st run
 116  900001 SUCHARITAKUL Kanes 1992 THA
 115  830007 QUDRATOV Alisher 1986 TJK
 113  540001 VON HOHENLOHE Hubertus 1959 MEX
 112  870002 STEYN Luke 1993 ZIM
 105  160091 PAPAMICHAEL Constantinos 1993 CYP
 104  780013 ZAVECKAS Rokas 1996 LTU
 103  120047 ZHANG Yuxin 1989 CHN
 101  660021 DANILOCHKIN Yuri 1991 BLR
 98  550022 RODE Roberts 1987 LAT
 96  194752 HANSE Arthur 1993 POR
 89  710311 RUDIC Marko 1990 BIH
 88  310426 VUKICEVIC Marko 1992 SRB
 86  680047 BENIAIDZE Alex 1991 GEO
 85  30246 BIRKNER KETELHOHN Jorge F. 1990 ARG
 81  150495 VRABLIK Martin 1982 CZE
 79  520100 SIMSEK Emre 1987 TUR
 76  320367 PARK Je-yun 1994 KOR
 70  430429 BYDLINSKI Maciej 1988 POL
 66  561217 KOSI Klemen 1991 SLO
 65  860005 BRACHNER Patrick 1992 AZE
 64  491356 CARRERAS Pol 1990 SPA
 62  40594 PERAUDO Ross 1992 AUS
 61  700868 FALAT Matej 1993 SVK
 60  320293 KYUNG Sung-hyun 1990 KOR
 57  30149 SIMARI BIRKNER Cristian Javier 1980 ARG
 56  481006 ZUEV Stepan 1988 RUS
 55  561244 KRANJEC Zan 1992 SLO
 54  90131 GEORGIEV Georgi 1987 BUL
 50  92562 PRISADOV Stefan 1990 BUL
 49  550054 ZVEJNIEKS Kristaps 1992 LAT
 45  481148 MAYTAKOV Sergei 1990 RUS
 43  320266 JUNG Dong-hyun 1988 KOR
 21  511983 AERNI Luca 1993 SUI
 20  534508 CHODOUNSKY David 1984 USA
 18  192506 MISSILLIER Steve 1984 FRA
 13  50625 RAICH Benjamin 1978 AUT
 11  50605 HERBST Reinfried 1978 AUT
 6  290732 THALER Patrick 1978 ITA
Saturday's Sochi roundup: Norway sweeps 30km; rider Wild wins againSunday's Sochi roundup: Russia sweeps 50km, assuring medal count win

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