Methusalah of the mountains
In winning slalom gold at Sochi, Austria’s Mario Matt became Olympic Alpine skiing’s oldest ever champion at the age of 34 years and ten months, the crowning achievement of a glorious 15-year career.
A prodigious talent
Mario Matt tried on skis for the first time at the age of two. A year later he was competing in his first race. And by the age of 14 he was fighting it out in the FIS European Cup. He was 18 when he finished runner-up in the slalom at the 1998 FIS Junior World Ski Championships in Chamonix (FRA). Then, a month after making his World Cup debut in December 1999, the young Austrian scored his first win, in the prestigious Kitzbühel slalom.
The first major title of his career came in January 2001 at St Anton (AUT) when he became world slalom champion, beating his team-mate and former junior rival Benjamin Raich by 0.15 seconds.
Highs and lows
Having reached the top of his sport, Matt then suffered a serious shoulder injury in Kitzbühel in January 2002, causing him to miss that year’s Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City. It was a whole year before he returned to action and several more before he got to back to his best. Though he made the Austria team for Turin 2006, he finished a lowly 34th in the combined before going out in the slalom, which was won by Raich.
The next two years saw “Super Mario” back on top. As well as winning five World Cup slalom events and the only combined of his career, he landed a second slalom world title in Are (SWE) in February 2007, dominating both legs to win by nearly two seconds from Italy’s Manfred Moelgg.
Back pains would nevertheless prevent him from qualifying for Vancouver 2010, where his brother Andreas won a silver medal in ski cross.
Old warriors never die
Matt’s third world championship medal – a bronze – came in Schladming in February 2013 in a race won by fellow Austrian Marcel Hirscher, ten years his junior. With a month to go before Sochi 2014, Matt then became the oldest ever winner of an FIS World Cup slalom race when he secured his 14th career triumph in the event in Val d’Isere at the age of 34 years and 250 days.
In the slalom at Sochi 2014, Matt made his all his experience, feel for the snow, technique and mental strength count. Mastering an especially tricky course, he dominated the first run before holding off the challenge of his compatriot Hirscher in the second to become the oldest champion in the history of Olympic Alpine skiing. “I don’t feel old. It’s amazing. My body just keeps on going,” he said after his triumph, proving that old warriors never die.