The alpine competitions of PyeongChang 2018 finally got underway on Tuesday with the men’s alpine combined. After the first two scheduled competitions, the men’s downhill and the women’s giant slalom, had to be pushed to Thursday due to high winds, racers were eager to get racing after the delays.
After a blustery day of racing, Austria’s Marcel Hirscher finally achieved the only thing that had eluded him in his illustrious career: Olympic gold.
The wind that had plagued the previous two days of racing had not disappeared completely, however, as the downhill portion was started from the super-G start, giving some advantage to the technical skiers over the speed skiers. Additionally, the course set was altered some in order to not go over the highest parts of the jumps and reduce air time with the goal of minimizing the risk in case of wind gusts.
German racer Thomas Dressen, who won this year’s Hahnenkamm race in Kitzbuehl, started the downhill with bib one and set a pace that went unmatched. Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal came as close as 0.07 seconds, but the Attacking Viking chose to not start in the slalom to preserve his still-recovering knee for the upcoming speed events.
Dressen was satisfied with his performance in the downhill but was aware that given his lack of slalom skills, his chances for a medal were small.
“It wasn’t something special but solid,” he told Germany’s ARD TV after his run. “I have to attack 100 percent now in the slalom and then see what it is worth in the end.”
There was some uncertainty over whether Hirscher would choose to start the combined over more preparation for the tech events leading up to Tuesday’s race. Hirscher answered those questions and more, ranking 12th after an impressive downhill run and was more than happy with his speed portion.
“Being in the top 30 told me and my team that we made the right decision with starting in the combine,” he said. “Because if you are in the top 30, you have a chance for the medals.”
Hirscher did admit that his decision to start in the alpine combined was a risk, however.
“Henrik Kristoffersen is training five days of slalom and five days of giant slalom,” he explained. “In contrast, I am here on my downhill skis, so what if I end up 20th in the giant slalom? Everyone would question my decision to race this alpine combined.”
In the end, his risk paid off and the Austrian won his first Olympic gold medal. “Now we know it was the right decision,” he added.
Hirscher raced a strong slalom run, battling swirling winds and ankle-high blizzards, and finished 0.23 and 1.02 seconds ahead of French duo Alexis Pinturault and Victor Muffat-Jeandet, respectively, giving France their first combined medals since the 1948 Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Dressen could only manage a ninth-place finish after his slalom run.
Hirscher admitted that Tuesday’s competition favored the technical skiers overall, with a shortened downhill and a challenging slalom run playing heavily to his and the other technical skier’s strengths.
The top American was Ted Ligety in fifth, finishing 1.45 seconds behind Hirscher after a strong slalom portion of his own. Ligety ranked only 24th after the downhill and also relied on his skills as a tech skier, but was a little bit frustrated with the wind conditions.
“I know it’s an outdoor sport, so it’s okay, but especially in the downhill, where I think the impact is bigger, some starters had tailwinds and some, like me, got a little bit of headwind,” said Ligety, who otherwise saw the day as chance to earn a medal himself.
Bryce Bennett was the next best American in 17th, followed by Jared Goldberg in 36th who sat ninth after the downhill but was hung up in his slalom run. Ryan Cochran-Siegle crashed early in his downhill run but was able to ski away uninjured.
Tuesday’s alpine combined was possibly the last combined to be held at the Olympic Games as the FIS has flirted with the idea of eliminating the discipline in the future, making the outlook for the event uncertain.
All three medal winners, however, do not think this is a good idea. Silver medalist and four-time combined crystal globe winner Pinturault said the event has too much history for it to disappear.
“Combined is a historic discipline,” said Pinturault. “It’s going to be a shame if they stop it. It’s the only discipline where the best downhill guys can compete against the best tech guys.”
Historically, the combined discipline has been an on and off event for the Olympics. The format has also changed over time with the current configuration of one run of downhill and one run of slalom adopted for the 2010 Games in Vancouver. In the 1936 Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, not only did alpine skiing make its debut as an Olympic competition, but combined was the only alpine skiing event.
“I think keeping the alpine combine in the program but instead of a downhill make it a super-G run,” added Hirscher. “That saves the days of downhill training.”
Transitioning to a super-G run in the future could also lead to more interest for the competition from the athletes themselves, although it would likely favor technical skiers more and further push speed skiers out of the discipline.
On Wednesday, it’s the women’s turn to compete for gold with the slalom scheduled to take place. The men will continue competition on Thursday with the rescheduled downhill race, which will take place in between runs of the rescheduled women’s giant slalom.
- Marcel Hirscher (AUT) – Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Alexis Pinturault (FRA) – Head/Head/Head
- Victor Muffat-Jeandet (FRA) – Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
- Marco Schwarz (AUT) – Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Ted Ligety (USA) – Head/Head/Head
- Thomas Mermillod Blondin (FRA) – Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Kjetil Jansrud (NOR) – Head/Head/Head
- Stefan Hadalin (SLO) – Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Thomas Dressen (GER) – Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Klemen Kosi (SLO) – Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
|Rank||Bib||FIS Code||Name||Year||Nation||Run 1||Run 2||Total Time||Diff.||FIS Points|
|6||14||192504||MERMILLOD BLONDIN Thomas||1984||FRA||1:20.89||47.13||2:08.02||+1.50||13.63|
|19||21||380292||ZRNCIC DIM Natko||1986||CRO||1:22.07||48.48||2:10.55||+4.03||36.63|
|21||17||422139||KILDE Aleksander Aamodt||1992||NOR||1:20.92||50.15||2:11.07||+4.55||41.36|
|33||60||320391||KIM Dong Woo||1995||KOR||1:24.02||53.02||2:17.04||+10.52||95.62|
|Did not finish 2nd run|
|63||270047||MC MILLAN Patrick||1991||IRL||1:25.77|
|62||54106||BREITFUSS KAMMERLANDER Simon||1992||BOL||1:22.94|
|Disqualified 2nd run|
|Did not start 2nd run|
|42||110324||VON APPEN Henrik||1994||CHI||1:21.16|
|8||421328||SVINDAL Aksel Lund||1982||NOR||1:19.31|
|Did not finish 1st run|