Sochi recap: Alpine skiing, men’s slalom

Austria’s Mario Matt has two world slalom titles (2001, 2007) and plenty of World Cup success. But he has rarely been healthy in the Olympics — in fact, he had never finished an Olympic slalom. Now the 34-year-old is a gold medalist.

Date: 22-Feb

Sport: Alpine skiing

Event: Men’s slalom

Medalists: Mario Matt (Austria), Marcel Hirscher (Austria), Henrik Kristoffersen (Norway)

SportsMyriad projections: Marcel Hirscher (Austria), Mario Matt (Austria), Felix Neureuther (Germany)

How U.S. fared: Nolan Kasper was 18th, exactly 2 seconds back, after the first run. David Chodounsky did not finish.

That left all eyes on Ted Ligety, the giant slalom gold medalist. His World Cup slalom results aren’t special — no better than sixth in the last four years. He hadn’t finished the slalom in 2006 or 2009. But after one run, he was a solid sixth, just 0.11 seconds out of the medal places. He quipped to the camera that it was better than he expected.

Kasper had a rough patch early in the second run but made it down, which is more than could be said for many. He was fifth among the first 13 skiers to go, one place behind University of Denver alumnus Leif Kristian Haugen of Norway.

And Kasper would be the only U.S. skier to finish. Ligety was in trouble from the early going and finally slid out. He tried to hike back up but couldn’t resurrect his run.

When the course kicked out several favorites, Kasper climbed up to 13th overall.

What happened: The tough course took out six of the top 30 in the first run, including Benjamin Raich, fellow Austrian Reinfried Herbst and surprise giant slalom medalist Steve Missillier. The leaderboard was filled with favorites — Mario Matt first, Sweden’s Andre Myhrer 0.45 seconds back in second, then Germany’s Felix Neureuther, France’s Alexis Pinturault and Austria’s Marcel Hirscher clustered in seventh through ninth.

The surprises were tied for third — Sweden’s Mattias Hargin at least has a recent World Cup podium, which Italy’s Stefano Gross hasn’t done in two years. France’s Jean-Baptiste Grange, in fifth place, won the 2011 World Championship in the midst of a superb World Cup season but hadn’t been on the podium in a few years. Then Ligety, a giant slalom monster but better in the speed events than slalom.

Croatia’s Ante Kostelic, Ivica’s father, somehow drew the assignment of setting the course for the second run again, just as he did in the combined. Would anyone finish? The first three skiers failed, and the fourth had to hike back up the hill to make a gate. Six of the first 15 went out.

With the course chewing up the field, someone would have a chance to move up the standings with a good run. Through 21 skiers, the leader was 19-year-old Norwegian Henrik Kristoffersen, who has four World Cup podiums in a breakout season.

Hirscher took a big dent out of that. He extended his 0.51-second lead over Kristoffersen in the first run to 0.55 seconds.

Then came Pinturault, going out of control but fast in the early going. He kept going fast but also kept going out of control, eventually going airborne with his skis askew. He was out. Then Neurather went out. Then Ligety. Then Grange. Hargin made it down but slipped down the standings (and immediately skied out the athletes’ exit). Gross gave it a good run early but could only finish third with two skiers to go.

Myhrer, the 2012 World Cup champion and 2010 bronze medalist, came out aggressive. And almost immediately straddled a gate.

Mario Matt had a 1.28-second advantage over Hirscher after the first run. He went out conservatively, giving back a bit of time. But he was in control … and he did it. He gave back exactly one second, winning by 0.28 seconds.

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