ZAGREB, Croatia — Thursday night’s men’s slalom had it all. A blizzard, clear skies, ice, soft snow, and wind — lots of wind — was on tap as Italy’s Manfred Moelgg took his first win in eight years with a combined time of 2:00.03 seconds. Second place went to Germany’s Felix Neureuther, 0.72 seconds back and Norwegian sensation Henrik Kristoffersen rounded out the podium in third, 0.77 seconds off of Moelgg’s pace.
The evening started of with a full-on snowstorm blanketing the slope that provided little visibility for the first 20 or so racers. Then, as if a someone flipped a switch, the snow stopped and skies cleared for the remainder of the opening run. Austria’s Manuel Feller set the pace in run one from bib 21 and started a trend of racers from high bib numbers making their way into the second run. American Mark Engel had a miraculous run, catapulting himself from bib 48 all the way to third, 0.28 seconds behind Feller.
The wind started whipping during second run inspection and didn’t let up until the last racer kicked out of the gate, creating challenging conditions as the top 30 racers took to the course. In a race that had been very tight up until that point, Neureuther looked to have blown the race wide open as he crossed the line with a healthy advantage and slid comfortably into the leader box. Krisoffersen put up a valiant effort, but slid into second, a slim 0.05 hundredths behind the German. Moelgg took to the course as the fifth fastest racer after run one and skied like he had nothing to lose, taking a commanding lead of 0.72 seconds with just four racers to go.
Heartbreakingly, Engel, after charging his second run and putting himself in position for a top-five finish, crashed in spectacular fashion mere gates from the finish much to the dismay of the thousands of spectators watching. Feller also failed to finish his second run, giving the victory to the Italian.
It was a special night for Moelgg. Winning in front of so many World Cup legends who were in town to commemorate the 50th season of the World Cup provided a special atmosphere all night long.
“It’s incredible,” he said. “It’s awesome, the feeling to win here in Zagreb. It’s the birthday of the World Cup and with all of these guys, Marc Girarelli and Tomba, incredible. It’s been a lot of work in the last two weeks and now we are here in first place; it’s incredible. It was difficult for all the guys, but I stayed focused on my skiing and thought to push hard and to ski fast. That’s the only thing that I thought of until the finish line.”
Neureuther tried his best to not concentrate on the swirling on-course winds and instead focus on his skiing after watching several racers before him struggle with the tough conditions.
“Tough race today,” Neureuther said in the finish. “We had, I think, every condition today; it was snowing, sunshine, windy, hard snow, soft snow, everything in one race. It was crazy. I am very, very happy that it ended that good for me. I watched the other guys at the start and I thought, ‘Ok, its not good for everybody, so you just have to push and don’t care if it’s windy or not,’ and it worked out pretty well for me.”
Kristoffersen continues to chip away at Marcel Hirscher’s lead in the slalom standings and today’s result sets up an exciting month of racing for the two slalom superstars. Although the Norwegian still fancies Hirscher the favorite for the slalom title, fans can rest assured that Kristoffersen won’t give up his slalom globe title with out a fight in the coming months.
“Really happy to be on the podium, for sure, with how everything went down with the conditions, with the wind, everything,” Kristoffersen explained. “Starting the new year with a third place is not bad. I think I got a little bit of wind on the flat there, especially where the banner used to be — it wasn’t there anymore when I was skiing — I got some wind there. I think there were lots of people that got more wind than I did. We are doing an outdoor sport, and we can’t change the weather, unfortunately, so that’s how it is.”
For the Americans, aside from Engel’s heartbreaking crash, David Chodounsky skied a solid second run, but was subject to hands-down the worst wind of the night en route to a 16th place finish.
“It was hard,” he reflected. “This is an outdoor sport, that’s what we do. I just didn’t get good wind today. It was really crazy up there. I went through a hairpin and literally could not see the next gate and I didn’t know where to go. I just gotta shake it off, there’s nothing I can do. I just have to go to the next race and keep firing.”
For Engel, his first time in a World Cup second run was quite the experience given his first run performance. Although crashing out in the second run, the Sugar Bowl native is in good spirits and looking forward to the rest of the season.
“Our whole team has really been skiing very fast and pushing each other,” Engel said. “To me, it felt like normal skiing like we ski in training. When I fell, I probably shouldn’t say (what I was thinking), but I’m smiling now. I was happy that I was going for it and not holding back.”
The remainder of the American squad of Robby Kelley, Michael Ankeny, and AJ Ginnis did not qualify for the second run, but as a whole was a few minor mistakes from making it into the points, which bodes well for the team heading into the remainder of the slalom season.
The men now head to Adelboden, Switzerland for giant slalom and slalom races Jan. 7-8.
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- Manfred Moelgg (ITA) – Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
- Felix Neureuther (GER) – Nordica/Nordica/Marker
- Henrik Kristoffersen (NOR) – Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Daniel Yule (SUI) – Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
- Michael Matt (AUT) –Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Marcel Hisrcher (AUT) – Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Dave Ryding (GBR) –Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
- Luca Aerni (SUI) – Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
- Julien Lizeroux (FRA) –Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
- Stefano Gross (ITA) – Voelkl/Tecnica/Marker
|Rank||Bib||FIS Code||Name||Year||Nation||Run 1||Run 2||Total Time||Diff.||FIS Points||WC Points|
|Disqualified 1st run|
|Did not qualify for 2nd run|
|75||54106||BREITFUSS KAMMERLANDER Simon||1992||BOL|
|30||421669||HAUGEN Leif Kristian||1987||NOR|
|Did not finish 2nd run|
|Did not finish 1st run|