It was the main talking point after the second run of the Winter Olympic Slalom race, a run that had seen 29 racers crash out and a couple more disqualified. There were some that thought it was a … disgrace to the sport while others described it as hard. It was certainly a course that required the upmost concentration for the racer. Ante Kostelic is renown for setting courses that challenge the racer and this one was one that he will be remembered for most in the history of time.

Setting a verticale into tight turns and other combinations made the course hazardous. Conditions were not great and from the moment that the first racer on the second run, Canadian Brad Spence screwed up his run at this combination, all eyes were on survival for the rest of the field. Big names like Grange and Ligety did not learn from the errors of others and lost out on the chance of glory.

Ted Ligety was one of the most vocal in criticising the course after the race. Ligety said the second run became “a battle of attrition. So many guys went out — really difficult snow conditions, not really the best venue for having a course that was not the most fair thing in the world. I had somewhat of a buffer on Hirscher. Given he had a great run, it would have been hard to come down ahead of him, but anything is possible. I don’t think anyone had a good feeling or a super clean run on this course. I knew there was a chance, but it’s slalom. I knew I was really going to have to lay it down in order to have any chance at all.”

With so much pressure on the racer to perform if they wanted to be in for the first for the medals, racers had to be on the very edge if they wanted to be in with a chance. There is a fine line between success and failure. For success read Matt, Hirscher and Kristofferson; for the rest it was a night of what might have been.

Alexis Pinturault was also vocal in his thoughts, saying: “I think it is not normal that the same person designs the course twice,” Pinturault said. “A slalom is a slalom. At some point you had to go uphill. We are supposed to go downhill. … It is not good for the image of skiing. I wanted to take risks and finished on my back, but I have a medal (bronze in giant slalom) and it is still okay.”

This was the second course that Ante Kostelic had set at these Games. With no World Cup Slalom having been set on these hills prior to the Games, he was in effect setting the maiden course for the Super Combi. Even that course draw strong criticism as it caught out many. Many had found it hard to figure out.

While this is the pinnacle of the sport, allowing a man who has a personal interest in the outcome to set a defining course, must be something that needs to be looked at for future races. Ligety: “I think it draws an ethical question when you have a dad setting for a son — not that Ivica ever does well when his dad sets — but this is an Olympics. We’re trying to showcase our sport to the rest of the world, and I don’t think this does us any favors, especially when you have 12 guys in the top 30 go out. [9 DNFs, three DSQs] That’s not the ideal setting for that kind of stuff, especially when the snow is bad. (Ante Kostelic) has really variable distance,” Ligety said. “He sets into the cross-ruts from the run before. He sets really awkward rhythm changes. You saw up there, there’s a hairpin to a hairpin, but one was really straight going into another one that was super, super turny. That was what took out most of the field right there. It’s just not a course set you can ski in a typical, modern technique.”

And what did Ivica Kostelic have to say on the matter? ”We will hear a lot about this course,” he said. “Even if it is negative, it was a spectacle for spectators. At the Olympic Games the course should be challenging. The guys on the podium deserve to be there. Skiers who train in tough conditions appreciate hard courses. They train hard and appreciate conditions like this. … There are always many critics because there are few of them that are good. The winners that are here are not here accidentally.”

Fans of the sport may disagree as many of their favourites crashed out. John Clark, Eurosport commentator and past GB Team coach, writing on Facebook explained: “bottom line is that people who watch this sport are looking to see the world’s best athletes tested to the max. In gravity based wintersport – skiing, boarding Alpine and freestyle – this means that people who push hard and then a little more will either fail or be rewarded.” Clark continued: “we have to push the limits. If a setter sticks with: 8 gate x 12.5m corridor, pin exit left, 6 gate x 12m corridor, hairpin exit right, 3 gate x 12.5m, right foot banana,,,, etc etc this will only bring mediocrityy. Even Doppelhofer’s first run course had a banana to banana.”

Despite this, some fans of Slalom racing thought this was a “very poor advert for our sport.” This was something that Ligety agreed with: “I think it draws an ethical question when you have a dad setting for a son — not that Ivica ever does well when his dad sets — but this is an Olympics. We’re trying to showcase our sport to the rest of the world, and I don’t think this does us any favors, especially when you have 12 guys in the top 30 go out. [9 DNFs, three DSQs] That’s not the ideal setting for that kind of stuff, especially when the snow is bad.”

At the end of the day, do fans want to see easy courses with all the racers getting down, or do they want to see the best racers succeeding and being stretched to the limit. Yes the course may have ruined the chances of many big names, but what the race did show was that course inspection is just as vital a part of the race as the race itself and something that young racers would be encouraged to take into account. Course inspection is not just a social time with your buddies!

For once going first on the second run was not a huge benefit! Matt, going 30th was able to benefit from seeing others make a mess of things and tailored his run to suit. The result? A Gold medal.

 

Picture: JB Grange was one of the big names crash out. CREDIT ZOOM AGENCE