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.

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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

RankBibFIS CodeNameYearNationRun 1Run 2Total TimeDiff.FIS Points
 1 3 50707MATT Mario1979AUT 46.70 55.14 1:41.84 0.00
 2 4 53831HIRSCHER Marcel1989AUT 47.98 54.14 1:42.12 +0.28 1.70
 3 5 422304KRISTOFFERSEN Henrik1994NOR 48.49 54.18 1:42.67 +0.83 5.05
 4 17 293797GROSS Stefano1986ITA 47.45 55.27 1:42.72 +0.88 5.36
 4 9 202462DOPFER Fritz1987GER 48.46 54.26 1:42.72 +0.88 5.36
 6 30 700830ZAMPA Adam1990SVK 49.34 53.94 1:43.28 +1.44 8.77
 7 14 500656LARSSON Markus1979SWE 48.04 55.56 1:43.60 +1.76 10.71
 7 2 501111HARGIN Mattias1985SWE 47.45 56.15 1:43.60 +1.76 10.71
 9 27 422082SOLEVAAG Sebastian-Foss1991NOR 49.08 55.03 1:44.11 +2.27 13.82
 9 8 380260KOSTELIC Ivica1979CRO 48.75 55.36 1:44.11 +2.27 13.82
 11 25 560355VALENCIC Mitja1978SLO 48.32 55.82 1:44.14 +2.30 14.00
 12 28 421669HAUGEN Leif Kristian1987NOR 48.83 55.38 1:44.21 +2.37 14.43
 13 31 532138KASPER Nolan1989USA 48.70 55.52 1:44.22 +2.38 14.49
 14 24 480736KHOROSHILOV Alexander1984RUS 48.71 55.52 1:44.23 +2.39 14.55
 15 34 191459LIZEROUX Julien1979FRA 48.69 55.63 1:44.32 +2.48 15.10
 16 26 102435JANYK Michael1982CAN 48.82 55.54 1:44.36 +2.52 15.34
 17 35 220689RYDING David1986GBR 49.40 56.51 1:45.91 +4.07 24.78
 18 39 380290SAMSAL Dalibor1985CRO 50.71 58.28 1:48.99 +7.15 43.53
 19 37 511902ZENHAEUSERN Ramon1992SUI 51.01 58.39 1:49.40 +7.56 46.03
 20 38 103676BROWN Philip1991CAN 49.97 59.68 1:49.65 +7.81 47.55
 21 69 460060BARBU Alexandru1987ROU 52.82 59.84 1:52.66 +10.82 65.87
 22 68 680041ABRAMASHVILI Iason1988GEO 52.59 1:00.78 1:53.37 +11.53 70.19
 23 52 430633JASICZEK Michal1994POL 52.88 1:00.60 1:53.48 +11.64 70.86
 24 71 350095PFIFFNER Marco1994LIE 53.46 1:02.02 1:55.48 +13.64 83.04
 25 63 410365BARWOOD Adam1992NZL 54.21 1:01.97 1:56.18 +14.34 87.30
 26 75 390035SMITH Warren Cummings1992EST 55.08 1:02.20 1:57.28 +15.44 94.00
 27 90 550061ONSKULIS Martins1994LAT 56.16 1:01.44 1:57.60 +15.76 95.95
 28 51 380334VIDOVIC Matej1993CRO 51.74 1:06.07 1:57.81 +15.97 97.23
 29 84 750088RISTEVSKI Antonio1989MKD 55.38 1:03.06 1:58.44 +16.60 101.06
 30 78 260110KIYADARBANDSARI Mohammad1989IRA 55.09 1:03.78 1:58.87 +17.03 103.68
 31 83 260079SAVEH SHEMSHAKI Hossein1985IRA 55.46 1:03.90 1:59.36 +17.52 106.66
 32 80 491876PUENTE TASIAS Alex1994SPA 53.73 1:05.72 1:59.45 +17.61 107.21
 33 53 481327TRIKHICHEV Pavel1992RUS 51.63 1:08.16 1:59.79 +17.95 109.28
 34 91 740031SEREBRAKIAN Arman1987ARM 55.90 1:04.67 2:00.57 +18.73 114.03
 35 95 230147SYKARAS Konstantinos1984GRE 57.83 1:06.25 2:04.08 +22.24 135.40
 36 72 250259GUDMUNDSSON Brynjar Jokull1989ISL 56.85 1:07.72 2:04.57 +22.73 138.38
 37 100 230659VALCAREGGI Massimiliano1995GRE 58.97 1:06.75 2:05.72 +23.88 145.38
 38 106 310412HADZIC Tarik1994MNE 1:00.95 1:06.99 2:07.94 +26.10 158.90
 39 108 210032VORONOV Artem1993UZB 1:00.42 1:10.54 2:10.96 +29.12 177.28
 40 107 270055LYNE Conor1993IRE 1:03.58 1:09.71 2:13.29 +31.45 191.47
 41 110 770015TIMOFEEV Evgeniy1994KGZ 1:02.47 1:12.96 2:15.43 +33.59 204.50
 42 111 340305MOHBAT Alexandre1995LIB 1:03.77 1:18.02 2:21.79 +39.95 243.21
 43 117 960300GOUTT Yohan Goncalves1994TLS 1:09.01 1:21.88 2:30.89 +49.05 298.62
Disqualified 2nd run
 102 690722MYTSAK Dmytro1995UKR
 97 80063LONGHI Jhonatan1988BRA
 33 102912SPENCE Brad1984CAN
 29 511996YULE Daniel1993SUI
 23 501223BAECK Axel1987SWE
Did not start 1st run
 99 800013TOLA Erjon1986ALB
 48 150398BANK Ondrej1980CZE
Did not finish 2nd run
 114 958400TRAVERS Dow1987CAY
 109 950000OETTL REYES Manfred1993PER
 94 240132FARKAS Norbert1992HUN
 93 110320CLARO Eugenio1993CHI
 92 40523DEMSCHAR Dominic1993AUS
 87 790025LAMHAMEDI Adam1995MAR
 82 700879ZAMPA Andreas1993SVK
 77 370022JENOT Olivier1988MON
 74 430466GARNIEWICZ Mateusz1990POL
 73 710320LAIKERT Igor1991BIH
 67 30266GASTALDI Sebastiano1991ARG
 59 92534CHONGAROV Nikola1989BUL
 58 250348KRISTGEIRSSON Einar Kristinn1994ISL
 47 150594TREJBAL Filip1985CZE
 46 380292ZRNCIC-DIM Natko1986CRO
 44 511896MURISIER Justin1992SUI
 42 103865PHILP Trevor1992CAN
 41 202437LUITZ Stefan1992GER
 40 150644KRYZL Krystof1986CZE
 36 180703PALONIEMI Santeri1993FIN
 32 301312SASAKI Akira1981JPN
 22 293098RAZZOLI Giuliano1984ITA
 19 301709YUASA Naoki1983JPN
 16 534562LIGETY Ted1984USA
 15 292491MOELGG Manfred1982ITA
 12 192665GRANGE Jean-Baptiste1984FRA
 10 194364PINTURAULT Alexis1991FRA
 7 201702NEUREUTHER Felix1984GER
 1 501017MYHRER Andre1983SWE
Did not finish 1st run
 116 900001SUCHARITAKUL Kanes1992THA
 115 830007QUDRATOV Alisher1986TJK
 113 540001VON HOHENLOHE Hubertus1959MEX
 112 870002STEYN Luke1993ZIM
 105 160091PAPAMICHAEL Constantinos1993CYP
 104 780013ZAVECKAS Rokas1996LTU
 103 120047ZHANG Yuxin1989CHN
 101 660021DANILOCHKIN Yuri1991BLR
 98 550022RODE Roberts1987LAT
 96 194752HANSE Arthur1993POR
 89 710311RUDIC Marko1990BIH
 88 310426VUKICEVIC Marko1992SRB
 86 680047BENIAIDZE Alex1991GEO
 85 30246BIRKNER KETELHOHN Jorge F.1990ARG
 81 150495VRABLIK Martin1982CZE
 79 520100SIMSEK Emre1987TUR
 76 320367PARK Je-yun1994KOR
 70 430429BYDLINSKI Maciej1988POL
 66 561217KOSI Klemen1991SLO
 65 860005BRACHNER Patrick1992AZE
 64 491356CARRERAS Pol1990SPA
 62 40594PERAUDO Ross1992AUS
 61 700868FALAT Matej1993SVK
 60 320293KYUNG Sung-hyun1990KOR
 57 30149SIMARI BIRKNER Cristian Javier1980ARG
 56 481006ZUEV Stepan1988RUS
 55 561244KRANJEC Zan1992SLO
 54 90131GEORGIEV Georgi1987BUL
 50 92562PRISADOV Stefan1990BUL
 49 550054ZVEJNIEKS Kristaps1992LAT
 45 481148MAYTAKOV Sergei1990RUS
 43 320266JUNG Dong-hyun1988KOR
 21 511983AERNI Luca1993SUI
 20 534508CHODOUNSKY David1984USA
 18 192506MISSILLIER Steve1984FRA
 13 50625RAICH Benjamin1978AUT
 11 50605HERBST Reinfried1978AUT
 6 290732THALER Patrick1978ITA