History will write that Mario Matt took the gold in the final alpine race of the 2014 Winter Olympics with his countryman Marcel Hirscher the … Â silver and Henrik Kristofferson the bronze. This will only show half the story. While the course was the same for the whole field on the second run and will leave a legacy to all the racers as to just how important course inspection is.
The second run, set by the master of intrigue, Ante Kostelic, through up so many areas that needed careful attention. The added pressure of it being the second run of the Olympic Games and with just three medals available, racers were fighting right on the limit. The first of the two critical gates was at the top and then there was another section that required more attention approaching the finish. From the first racer on the second run, attention was drawn to a section that saw the racer approach a tight ninety degree turn at speed after a verticale. Racers knew that the speed had to be controlled but with so much at stake, many tore into the gate but were unable to make it around the tight gate after the verticale. In short it was a killer gate, but it was the same for all.
Usually going first on the second run is a huge advantage and many times it has seen a racer jump up the rankings. Maybe this was a race that bucked the trend as later runners were able to see the earlier racers struggle and could adapt their runs to suit the deteriorating conditions.
Mario Matt won the first rub ahead of two Swedes, Andre Myhrer with Mattias Hargin in joint third with Stefano Gross. With Felix Neureuther in seventh, less than a second off the pace, the second run was looking like it would be a classic. Marcel Hirscher was 1.28 off the pace and behind one of his rivals, Alexis Pinturault, the excitement and anticipation was immense.
Adam Zampa was the first racer to negotiate the tricky sections well and took a lead that stood for a while. The young Slovakian had learned from the mistakes of the early runners and put down a time that many struggled to attack. Henrik Kristofferson was the next to make a prolonged stay in the leaders box. It was the run of Marcel Hirscher, from ninth after the first run that took the lead and shook the race up.
Pinturault spectacularly crashed out from eighth; Neureuther straddled; Ligety came a cropper at the problem gate at the top as did Grange. Hargin made one mistake to many and dropped down the rankings before Gross put down a time that placed him in the dreaded third with two to go. Myhrer went out and this left the 2001 and 2007 World Champion in the start gate. Matt’s best Olympic result before this race had been 34th in the Combined in his only prior experience of the Olympics in Sestriere (2006). Could he withstand the immense pressure that the Olympics brings?
With 14 World Cup Slalom wins to his name over a career spanning just over 14 years, Matt is one of the elder statesmen of the Slalom scene. In what is often referred to as the young mans discipline, Matt has stood the test of time. While Hirscher is the man of the moment, Matt had a lead of 1.28 seconds in the start over his countryman. This was a moment of extreme pressure.
How did the Austrian deal with the pressure?Â â€œYou can tell yourself this is just a training run,â€ Matt said in the finish, â€œbut when it works out like this it is incredible. A massive goal has come through for me today. â€¦ (To win an Olympic medal) everything has to fit together, and I was lucky in this case. I thought that today I would just ski and just see what happens. I approached the course with that attitude and it worked out.â€
Matt lost a second to Hirscher on the second run but had enough in the bank to take the Gold, Hirscher took his first Olympic medal with the silver and Henrik Kristofferson stormed up the rankings from 15th to take the bronze. While Matt was the oldest to win Gold, removing Kjetil Andrea Aamodt from the record books, Kristofferson became the youngest to take a medal.
The criticism of the course will provide endless argument but for Matt, Hirscher and Kristofferson the medals are in the bag
Picture Mario Matt on his way to winning the Olympic Gold. Credit: Zoom Agence