Wiping the smile off Henrik Kristoffersen’s face was not likely. In his first World Cup race starting in the first seed and wearing bib one for the infamous night slalom at Schladming, the 19-year-old Norwegian schooled even the best in the business, including local hero Marcel Hirscher and Germany’s Felix Neueuther and Fritz Dopfer, the second, third and fourth-place finishers, respectively.
The result was not one many of the 50,000 spectators expected when they arrived at the venue earlier in the day, though the lead-up to the top of the first run finish order sure had the oversized stands — built for last season’s World Championships — humming with anticipation.
Neureuther, the ninth fastest first run finisher, was the first to unlock the secrets of the second run, a seemingly straight forward set from his coach, Hannes Wallner. The German star’s run was a clinic. Starting with a .64 of a second margin, he stretched it the entire length of the Planai course for a massive 1.52-second lead. Hirscher staggered out of the start area’s warming structure where he had watched the run of television with his eyes wide in disbelief, knowing his work had just been cut out for him.
Then Dopfer attacked the course in much the same manner and dipped behind his more celebrated teammate by a scant .09.
Manfred Moelgg, Andre Myhrer and Alexis Pinturault started in the next three slots and could not overtake either of the Germans.
When his time arrived, Hirscher took to the course and the stadium vibrated with support. He constructed an amazing lead of .73 of a second before struggling a bit toward the end of the run. It appeared he might have thrown the entire margin away, and an error just above the finish made many wonder if he could even complete the race. But when he crossed the finish the green light displayed the smallest possible margin, just .01. Still in the finish, he and Neureuther exchanged signals as Neureuther held his forefinger and thumb as close as possible to signify just how close the race had turned out.
But this race was not yet over. Two men, the youngster Henrik Kristoffersen and the old man of the race, first run leader Mario Matt, remained at the start.
The teen started with a .07 margin and quickly lost it. He was more than a half second back at the last interval, but down the final steep into the finish he was exceptional to claim the win by .18. He tossed his ski poles to the side, punched the air and collapsed on the ground where he remained while Matt took to the course. Having collected second place in Kitzbuehel last week, Kristoffersen seemed most pleased with history simply repeating itself.
The assembled multitude, of course, wanted Matt to get the win for Mother Austria, and he was willing. Maybe a little too willing. Perhaps thinking too many gates ahead, he pushed out of the start and barely got into a rhythm before cutting the third turn of the course too direct and straddling the gate. Kristoffersen became a winner in just his 24th World Cup start.
“It’s unbelievable… [to] win my first World Cup race here in Schladming with 45-50,000 spectators is just unbelievable,” said Kristoffersen regarding his victory in the final slalom race before the Sochi Games. “I haven’t thought that much about the Olympics, actually, so I’ve been more focused on the World Cup races. Of course it’s a boost. I kind of get a little bit more pressure now, but I think that’s OK.”
“Henrik has all my admiration, this young boy showed us all how it’s done,” noted Neureuther. “He is a very good skier, he has been constant and solid, and he told me he skied out only seven times in his whole senior career. It wasn’t a huge surprise that he could handle the pressure here in Schladming and win this race.”
While slow motion video replays aired on Universal Sports revealed a potentially questionable passage by Hirscher of the very first gate in the second run, he was not disqualified nor were any protests filed in the required window of time, and the results were validated as official.
“He has brilliant technique and smart skiing. I would almost say that he is one of the leaders of a new generation that we can all learn from,” Hirscher said of Kristoffersen at the press conference following the race.
It was an awful day for the North Americans. The Canadians didn’t advance anyone as far as the second run and the Americans had just David Chodounsky in 22nd at the end of the night. Colby Granstrom more or less survived an ugly mishap in his first second run of the season. Part way down the run he rotated his upper body through a turn, lost pressure on the outside ski, and came to a near stop on course. Then he tried attacking again but lost pressure over the front of his skis, leaned in on the steep, and hipped out. He hiked to finish, but was beyond the time limit needed to secure any World Cup points for his efforts. Ted Ligety straddled in the first run and Bode Miller was disqualified for the second straight leg of slalom.
To view photos from this race click here.
Men’s World Cup slalom (night), Schladming, Austria, Jan. 28, 2014
Equipment - Skier, skis/boots/bindings
1 Kristoffersen, Rossignol/Rossignol/Rossignol
2 Hirscher, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
4 Dopfer, Nordica/Nordica/
5 Pinturault, Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
6 Hargin, Nordica/Nordica/
7 Moelgg, Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
8 Larsson, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
9 Misssillier, Dynastar/Lange/Look
10 Herbst, Fischer/Fischer
Men’s World Cup slalom (night), Schladming, Austria, Jan. 28, 2014. … The Schladming Night Race. … It is the 24th race of the men’s 2014 World Cup schedule. … The seventh of nine scheduled slaloms. … It is the 43rd World Cup race hosted at Schladming, which has also hosted two World Championships. … Schladming has hosted a mid-week night slalom annually since 1997.
It is the first career World Cup win for Henrik Kristoffersen and fourth career podium, all of them coming this season and all in slalom. … It was just his 24th career World Cup start.
It is the 56th career World Cup podium for Marcel Hirscher. … His 11th this season in 13 completed races.
It is the 26th career World Cup podium for Felix Neureuther… his fifth of the season and fourth of the season in slalom.
It is the 12th career scoring result for David Chodounsky… his fourth of the season, all in slalom.
Aksel Lund Svindal (did not race) maintains the lead of the World Cup overall standings 897-875 over Marcel Hirscher. … Alexis Pinturault (fifth in race) is third with 714pts. … Ted Ligety (DNF 1st) is fifth overall with 529pts and Bode Miller (DSQ 1st) is seventh with 449pts … Erik Guay (did not race) is top Canadian in 23rd with 261pts.
Hirscher maintains the lead of the slalom standings 420-370 over Felix Neureuther and Henrik Kristoffersen, now tied for second. … David Chodounsky leads the U.S. in 16th place with 93pts. … Michael Janyk leads the Canadians in 28th with 47pts.
Austria leads the men’s Nations Cup 3793-2653 over France. … Italy is third with 2104pts. … The U.S. is sixth with 1546 and Canada ninth with 748pts.
|Rank||Bib||FIS Code||Name||Year||Nation||Run 1||Run 2||Total Time||Diff.||FIS Points|
|15||34||421669||HAUGEN Leif Kristian||1987||NOR||52.84||57.30||1:50.14||+2.71||15.64|
|Disqualified 1st run|
|Did not start 1st run|
|Did not qualify for 2nd run|
|50||192504||MERMILLOD BLONDIN Thomas||1984||FRA|
|Did not finish 2nd run|
|Did not finish 1st run|
|76||30149||SIMARI BIRKNER Cristian Javier||1980||ARG|