At 29 years old, Frenchman Alexi Pinturault has been recognized as the best four-event skier on the World Cup for the last half-dozen years. That he hasn’t won an overall title — or a title in his favorite discipline giant slalom — says a lot about the era in which he has skied. Ted Ligety thwarted his early attempts at a GS title, followed by Marcel Hirscher, who bogarted every title in sight until his retirement two years ago.
(For more insight on that, be sure to catch the coverage on the networks of NBC this weekend and through the end of the season where Steve Schlanger and I will be joined by Ted Ligety from his home in Park City, Utah, hopefully while his twins are asleep.)
With last year’s overall title winner Alex Aamod Kilde out injured, 2021 has been the year of the Frenchman. At the end of January, just before the world championship in Cortina, France’s most productive winner had amassed a lead of nearly 300 points in the overall and a 40-point lead in the GS standings. Then, the first domino fell. He let slip a dominant first-run lead at the World Championship GS when he crashed out in the second run, continuing his legacy as one of the best skiers ever without an Olympic or World Championship gold medal in his chosen specialties of slalom or GS. (He does have one in super combined.) It had no impact on World Cup standing … but did it invoke a sense of fate?
Fast forward to the final GS races of the season, and the wildly athletic Pinturault has lost a bit more ground in the GS title race by losing a pole in Bansko, Bulgaria, along with precious points in his quest for both titles. Meanwhile, the unbridled 23-year-old Marco Odermatt, of Switzerland, has been on a late-season tear, free of any obvious pressures. Not only did he close the gap in the GS standings to within 25 points of Pinturault, he defied the odds of a late number to win the most recent super G in Austria. In those three days of speed racing, Odermatt pulled within 81 points in the overall title race. Had the Swiss phenom not been sidelined by Covid during the parallel event in late November, it would be tighter still.
Bottom line: Any breathing room Pinturault might have felt this season has been suffocated by Odermatt’s late-season form and possible cracks in his own confidence. The calendar still favors Pinturault with two slaloms remaining — an event in which Odermatt does not compete — two GS, one super G, and one downhill. But momentum is on the side of the Swiss.
On one hand, it is hard not to watch the athleticism and range of Pinturault’s skiing coupled with his 100% finish rate on the World Cup this season and not see how he deserves both a GS and overall title at this point in his career. On the other, you can’t help but notice the number of times he’s come up just short of cementing his name among the greatest of all time.
He has eight Olympic and World Championship medals but only the one gold in super combined. He has twice been second in the overall, and three other times, third. He has been either second or third in the GS title race every year since 2013, but never closed the deal.
That final winning move is akin to Mount Everest’s Hillary Step, nearly impossible to reach and all the harder to clear. With Odermatt coming, Aamodt Kilde returning, it’s hard to fathom just how rarified the air is around Alexi Pinturault in his final assault of the 2021 World Cup campaign.