Hirscher and Shiffrin lead the way in Alpine skiing’s technical events
Making the headlines in the Alpine skiing technical events at PyeongChang 2018 was Austria’s Marcel Hirscher, who landed the men’s combined and giant slalom titles, and the USA’s Mikaela Shiffrin, who added giant slalom gold to the slalom crown she won at Sochi 2014 before taking silver in the women’s combined behind Switzerland’s Michelle Gisin. Swedish skiers excelled in the slalom events, as Frida Hansdotter won the women’s and Andre Myhrer the men’s, while the inaugural mixed team event went to Switzerland.
Hirscher opens gold account
The outstanding Alpine skier of the last decade, Hirscher won a long-awaited first Olympic gold of his career in the men’s combined at the Yongpyong Alpine Centre. A superb 12th in the downhill, the Austrian produced a storming slalom run to win by 0.23 seconds from France’s Alexis Pinturault – the pre-race favourite. Another Frenchman, Victor Muffat-Jeandet, came in just over a second behind Hirscher to take the bronze.
“It’s a dream come true for me,” said the new Olympic champion, a seven-time overall World Cup winner and the owner of six world championship gold medals. “It’s a huge surprise. I’ve just done the best downhill of my career. Alexis was the big favourite and it was so close. I am so happy at winning this medal. Everyone in Austria, was expecting it, saying to me: “You’ve had a great career but you still haven’t won Olympic gold. So this is perfect. It’s amazing.”
Giant steps for Shiffrin
A slalom gold medallist at the age of 18 in Sochi four years earlier, Shiffrin made the perfect start to her PyeongChang 2018 campaign with victory in the women’s giant slalom. Lying second at the halfway stage behind Italy’s Manuela Mölgg, the US skier showcased her flawless technique in her second run, making light of a testing course to win by 0.39 seconds from Norway’s Ragnhild Mowinckel, with Italy’s Federica Brignone third.
“Giant slalom is something I have a love-hate relationship with,” said Shiffrin afterwards. “It’s more difficult for me to find a good rhythm in GS, so I need to train it a lot, I need to be in a good mood, I need to be aggressive. I’m just starting to find some connection with that this year. To do that today was just amazing.”
The last skier down the course, Mölgg could place no higher than 23rd on her second run and had to be content with eighth place, while giant slalom specialists Tessa Worley of France and Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg – the Vancouver 2010 champion – finished seventh and fourth respectively.
Hansdotter ends long wait
One of Alpine skiing’s habitual runners-up, Swedish veteran Frida Hansdotter finally stepped up to the top of the podium in the women’s slalom. Second behind Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener after the first run, the Swede threw caution to the wind to go second-fastest in the final descent and win by a mere 0.05 seconds from the Swiss.
Austrian 20-year-old Katharina Gallhuber went quickest second time out to claim the bronze, despite having never finished on a World Cup podium before. Struggling with a virus, defending champion Shiffrin was unable to follow up the previous day’s giant slalom win and had to settle for fourth.
“I was surprised today because I wasn’t very nervous,” said the 32-year-old Hansdotter, whose only previous major title was the 2016 World Cup slalom crown. “I wanted to try and make the most of today and I was smiling. I just wanted to ski as quickly as I could.”
Hirscher doubles up
Fourth in the men’s giant slalom at both Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014, Hirscher made no mistake this time around as he surged to his second gold of PyeongChang 2018. Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen finished 1.27 seconds behind to take the silver, while Pinturault picked up another bronze to go with the one he collected in Sochi four years previously.
The Austrian led the competition from start to finish, ending the first run 0.63 seconds ahead of Pinturault, with surprise Norwegian challenger Leif Christian Nestvold-Haugen a further 0.03 seconds back in third.
Tenth after the first run, Kristoffersen staked his claim for gold with a flying second descent, taking the race lead and then holding on to it despite a brave bid from Pinturault to unseat him. Though Hirscher held a 1.31-second advantage over Kristoffersen after the first run, he had no intention of taking it easy and produced a typically attacking display to claim victory by a comfortable margin.
“Winning the combined gold is a big surprise for me”, said the prolific Austrian. “Everyone, particularly the media, was expecting another gold medal from me. You can never look too far ahead in professional sport, but I had so much confidence and speed out there.”
Myhrer pounces for men’s slalom gold
Four days later, Hirscher bid for his third gold of PyeongChang 2018 in the slalom, an event he and Kristoffersen were expected to dominate. Things did not work out that way, however, with the Austrian skiing out after making two mistakes at the top of his first run.
The Norwegian led the competition at the halfway stage, holding a 0.21-second advantage over Sweden’s Andre Myhrer. Austria’s Michael Matt, the brother of Sochi 2014 slalom champion Mario, then climbed up from 12th place to take the lead with a time of 47.66 seconds, the fastest of the second run, before Ramon Zenhäusern nudged him off the top.
The penultimate man down the course, the 35-year-old Myhrer belied his years and a career of record of one solitary individual medal – slalom bronze at Vancouver 2010 – to relegate the Swiss to second and secure himself a silver at least, with just Kristoffersen to come. Like Hirscher before him, however, the Norwegian failed to control his speed and skied out, leaving the Swede to claim gold ahead of Zenhäusern and Matt.
“I think my experience worked in my favour,” said Myhrer, the oldest man to win an Olympic slalom medal and the first Swedish man to land an Alpine skiing title since the great Ingemar Stenmark in the same event at Lake Placid 1980. “These are my fourth Games and I have a routine going now. I just tried to enjoy it today and give everything I had on the course.”
Michelle Gisin follows sister’s lead
Four years after her older sister Dominique shared downhill gold with Slovenia’s Tina Maze in Sochi, Michelle Gisin won her family’s second Olympic title in the women’s combined. She did so in some style, topping the podium by nearly a second ahead of Shiffrin, with Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener – the reigning world champion – taking the bronze. US legend Lindsey Vonn led the competition after the downhill but skied out in the slalom.
Finding the perfect combination of speed and technique, Gisin backed up her second place in the downhill in Lake Louise (CAN) earlier in the season with a fine opening run that left her third behind Vonn and Mowinckel, who had both finished on the podium in the previous day’s downhill race.
Holdener then moved up from tenth to first in the slalom leg before being replaced at the top of the leaderboard by Shiffrin. Gisin held a comfortable advantage over the American, however, and eased into the lead after completing the downhill course in 40.76 seconds, the fourth-fastest time of the day. A surprise gold was hers when Mowinckel finished nearly two seconds outside her time and Vonn failed to make it to the finish line.
“I was a lot more nervous in the downhill,” said an elated Gisin, who fell heavily in the finish area after completing her downhill run the day before. “I was so calm it was as if I knew it was going to be my day. I gave everything I had. I did my best with all my heart and I’m so happy it worked out. My sister played a very important role. She stayed with me all afternoon and evening [after her fall], answering messages. She put me into bed, took my phone away from me and arranged treatment for me.”
Switzerland claim inaugural mixed team title
Making its Olympic debut, the mixed team event brought the Alpine skiing programme to a close on the penultimate day of PyeongChang 2018 and saw Switzerland (Denise Feierabend, Holdener, Zenhäusern and Daniel Yule) land the gold thanks to a 3-1 defeat of old rivals Austria (Katharina Gallhuber, Katharina Liensberger, Marco Schwarz and Matt) in the final.
In the battle for bronze, Norway (Sebastian Foss-Solevaag, Nestvold-Haugen, Kristin Lysdahl and Nina Haver-Loeseth) tied 2-2 with reigning world champions France (Adeline Baud-Mugnier, Worley, Pinturault and Clément Noël) but claimed the last place on the podium courtesy of an aggregate time that was 0.12 seconds faster than their opponents’.
“It’s great to compete in four events and start with three medals,” said Holdener. “For me, individual medals are obviously more important but I love this format and I wanted to run.” After securing his second medal of PyeongChang 2018, Zenhäusern added: “It’s a dream that goes on. I love these parallel slaloms. I hope there will be more in the future. For the public, it’s really interesting and the atmosphere was better in the finish area today than in the slalom.”
Though much fancied to finish in among the medals, the Swedish quartet, which featured newly crowned Olympic slalom champions Hansdotter and Myhrer, went out in the second round to Austria.