Men’s Alpine skiing: Mayer opener and Matt finish ensure an Austrian Alpine double
The five events – downhill, super-G, super combined, giant slalom and slalom - produced five different winners, underlining the intensity of the competition on the slopes of Rosa Khutor. They included the oldest ever Alpine gold medallist, the oldest to win a medal of any colour, and the youngest male skier to feature on the podium. At the top of the podium, there was long awaited super giant joy for Ted Ligety and three genuine surprises.
9 February 2014: Mayer seals surprise downhill gold
Risk-taking Austrian tyro Matthias Mayer overcame a poor upper section to storm to Olympic gold in the blue riband men's downhill. The 23-year-old clocked 2 minutes 6.23 seconds down the 3.5km-long course to give Austria their first downhill gold since Fritz Stroebl at Salt Lake City 2002.
Mayer, a super-G specialist, whose father won silver in that event at Calgary 1988, had never previously won a major international downhill. “Of course it means a lot to me,” he said. “It's really difficult to go down the track without mistakes. I thought maybe in a few years I could dream of this sort of achievement. It was really cool and my family will be excited,” he added. "I woke up this morning and I knew that I could win this race. I was smiling the whole day, all throughout the inspection. It was my day."
Italy’s Christof Innerhofer took silver, just six hundredths of a second slower than Mayer’s time. “It has been a big dream for me to win a medal at the Olympic Games, so I can't really believe it,” admitted the Italian.”
Norway's Kjetil Jansrud claimed bronze a further 0.04 seconds adrift, with team-mate and world downhill champion Aksel Lund Svindal in fourth. Another strong favourite, Bode Miller of the USA could only finish eighth. Defending Olympic champion Didier Defago of Switzerland finished 14th at 1.56 seconds.
Down on two splits in the upper section of the course, Mayer nailed the tricky technical middle part which demands slick rhythmic turns to maintain speed before a gliding section favoured by the heavier racers. Mastering the three jumps which catapult the racers 60 metres while travelling at speeds of around 135kmph, Mayer held his line through to the end.
Innerhofer secure a 0.58 second lead early on, but could not maintain it. “I risked so much at the top,” acknowledged Innerhofer. “I thought to myself, 'Come on Chris, you must push harder', so I pushed harder. I thought if I risked a lot it could go well and it could go badly, but at least I could say after the race that I tried.”
14 February 2014: Viletta springs surprise in super combined
Switzerland's Sandro Viletta won the men's Olympic super-combined to top a podium on which both pre-race favourites were absent. The 28-year-old, who had previously managed just one win on the World Cup circuit going into Sochi, won with a combined time of 2 minutes 45.20 seconds for his downhill and slalom runs.
Croatia’s Ivica Kostelic was second at 0.34 seconds, bagging his fourth Olympic silver – three of which have come in the combined. Christof Innerhofer (ITA) finished third at 0.47 seconds to add bronze to the silver he won in the downhill.
“This is amazing, perfect, more than a dream come true,” said Viletta. “It's also a big shock. I didn't think I would come first.” The Swiss was just 14th after the downhill and looked well out of the frame, but a second-fastest run in the slalom catapulted him to gold.
Silver medallist Kostelic was disappointed to miss out on top spot. “I was hoping for gold this time,” said the Croatian, but he recognised that capping an indifferent season with an Olympic medal was still a wonderful achievement. “A big rock has fallen from my heart now... I had a pretty bad season. I never skied the podium in the World Cup so I’m thankful for the medal.”
For Innerhofer the bronze medal was a complete surprise, given that he had considered withdrawing just before the race. “At the start gate, I nearly decided not to bother because the downhill went so well for a lot of the slalom specialists,” he admitted the 2011 triple world medallist. “I can't believe it, this is crazy.”
Ted Ligety (USA) and Alexis Pinturault (FRA) had been hotly tipped for glory, following impressive victories in the super combined during the World Cup season. However, neither managed to finish within the top 10.
16 February 2014: Jansrud discovers super-G force to achieve a childhood dream
Norwegian Kjetil Jansrud caused a sensational upset in the men's super-G, eclipsing favourites Aksel Lund Svindal and Bode Miller to take gold. The 28-year-old Norwegian, who had already won downhill bronze, mastered the challenging super-G course in a time of 1 minute 18.14 seconds.
Andrew Weibrecht (USA) improved on his bronze at Vancouver 2010 finishing second at 0.30 seconds to claim his first podium in four years. Meanwhile, his fellow American Miller, hotly tipped for gold, had to settle for joint bronze with Canada's Jan Hudec, as both men finished 0.53 seconds off the pace.
“It means the world to me. It's the biggest thing you can win. It's something I have worked for since I was a little kid, so I am just going to enjoy it,” said Jansrud.
Keen to make up for disappointing showings in the first three events, Miller had long looked a likely winner, attacking the course full on to lead after the first split and then maintaining an impressive pace right to the finish.
However, Jansrud put in an utterly dominant performance that left a full half second ahead of Miller, who at 36 became the oldest Alpine skier to win an Olympic medal.
Defending Olympic champion and current World Cup super-G leader Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway could only finish seventh. The three-time Olympic medallist and World Cup super-G leader was the main favourite going into the race. However, he was out-skied by his compatriot Jansrud, who had also kept him off the downhill podium. “To see him pull out his stuff today was really impressive,” said Svindal of his compatriot.
US skier Ted Ligety, last year's super-G world champion, finished 14th, while Italy's Christof Innerhofer, 2011 super-G world champion skied out after attacking an early turn too hard.
19 February 2014: Slalom supremo Ligety takes another giant step
Eight years after his first Olympic title in the super combined at Turin 2006, the USA’s Ted Ligety reminded the world just why he is king of the giant slalom, producing two stunning runs to take gold at Rosa Khutor.
The 29-year-old reigning world champion clocked a combined time of 2 minutes 45.29 seconds. Surprise package Steve Missilier (FRA) came in at 0.48 seconds to take silver, while his compatriot Alexis Pinterault claimed bronze, a further 0.16 back.
“It's unbelievable!” exclaimed a delighted Ligety. “It’s the one I wanted to win for so many years. The pressure was Huge. Alexis [Pinturault] is one of the big stars of tomorrow. Steve [Missilier] and me, we are the same age, and he deserves his silver.”
Both of the men joining Ligety on the podium were thrilled to have secured their first Olympic medals. “We knew that we’d have to pull out all the stops in the second run. I still can’t believe what’s happened! It’s a great feeling to be here on the podium with Alexis,” said Missilier, who with just one World Cup podium to his name going into Sochi 2014, was never really expected to feature among the medals.”
“This is going to make for a fantastic memory. We were behind Ted, but I am genuinely delighted by this result,” added Pinturault
Ligety signalled his intentions with a blistering first run that made light of the soft snow. “Sometimes my best or fastest run doesn't feel like that,” said the four-time world champion after his first run. “Today, I actually felt at times that I was going a little too cautiously, but I managed to get a nice buffer.”
In truth the American had at times managed to conjure angles and trajectories that seemed to defy conventional geometry. That left him with a lead of almost one full second going into the second run, with Czech skier Ondrej Bank, a rank outsider before the race, leading a charge of no less than 17 pursuers all finishing the first leg within a second of each other.
There was a superb battle for the other podium places. Missilier, 10th after the first run, took the lead after an impressive second run and managed to stay on top as a number of favourites completed their efforts.
However, Ligety, who had a huge 1.50 second lead on the Frenchman after the first run, could not be caught to banish the disappointments of the super combined and super-G, in which he finished 12th and 14th respectively.
Marcel Hirscher (AUT), who arrived in Sochi as giant slalom World Cup leader, fell short of the podium by 0.30 seconds, while defending champion Carlo Janka (SUI) was 13th.
22 February 2014: 34-year-old Matt becomes oldest ever Alpine champion
Austria's Mario Matt won a pulsating men’s slalom to become the oldest skier in history to win an Alpine gold at the Winter Games. The 34-year-old clinched the title ahead of his compatriot and hot favourite Marcel Hirscher.
Matt’s recent showings on the FIS World Cup circuit had done little to indicate he would be in contention for the podium. However, in the two runs at Rosa Khutor he proved unbeatable, finishing with a combined time of 1 minute 41.84 seconds.
Hirscher, the reigning world champion, finished at 0.28 seconds, with Norwegian sensation Henrik Kristoffersen also coming out of nowhere to take bronze at 0.83 seconds.
“Everything has to fit together and I was lucky in this case. I thought I’d just ski and just see what happens," said Matt, who won the world title in 2001 and 2007. “I approached the course with that attitude and it worked out. It's the highlight of my career.”
Hirscher, who set about the course with his typical attacking style, said that his bold approach had helped him catapult himself back into contention after finishing down the order following his first run: “I had an unbelievable second run and jumped from ninth to second. I far prefer to be challenged.”
Matt overtook Norwegian legend Kjetil Andre Aamodt as the oldest winner of an Alpine event, while at the other end of the age spectrum, 19-year-old Kristoffersen became the youngest ever male skier to finish on an Olympic podium.
“I feel pretty good right now,” said the Norwegian, who was back in 15th after the first run. “It was the goal to be here at the Olympics. Hopefully, I have few more to go. This is unbelievable.”
Felix Neureuther (GER) and Alexis Pinturault (FRA) both failed to complete the two runs, as did newly crowned giant slalom champion Ted Ligety (USA) and defending Olympic champion Giuliano Razzoli (ITA).