Olympics: Matt wins men’s slalom gold

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Austria’s Mario Matt won men’s slalom gold to become oldest Olympic alpine skiing champion.

ROSA KHUTOR (AFP) – Austria’s Mario Matt became the oldest Olympic alpine skiing champion in history on Saturday when he won a dramatic men’s slalom at age 34, in front of favourite Marcel Hirscher.

However the race ended in controversy with many big names crashing out, including US star Ted Ligety who blasted the course as unfair and unsporting.

Matt, a two-time slalom world champion, proved unbeatable over the two runs, finishing with a combined time of 1min 41.84sec to close the skiing competitions at the Sochi Games.

His compatriot Hirscher, the reigning world champion, finished second at 0.28sec, with young Norwegian sensation Henrik Kristoffersen taking bronze at 0.83sec.

At 34 years and 319 days old, Matt snatched the mantle of oldest winner from Norwegian legend Kjetil Andre Aamodt, who was 34 years and 169 days when he won super-G gold in Turin in 2006.

Meanwhile, 19-year-old Kristoffersen became the youngest Olympic medallist in men’s alpine skiing, a day after US teenager Mikaela Shiffrin smashed the record for youngest ever Olympic slalom champion.

“You can tell yourself this is just a training run but when it works out like this it is incredible,” said Matt, who won his first world championship gold in 2001. “A massive goal has come through for me today.”

Kristoffersen, who had won the last slalom going into the Olympics, was 15th after the first run but showed off a commanding performance to take the lead in the second.

This didn’t last long as 24-year-old Hirscher, with his typical attacking style, stormed down the course.

The Austrian slalom World Cup winner had made a faultless first run but had found himself in ninth place before battling back in impressive fashion.

Hirscher just missed the prized treble of slalom World Cup trophy and world and Olympic gold, but was visibly moved and teary-eyed as he stood in the finish area with only teammate Matt likely to overtake him for gold.

“With the time I was behind I thought this would be impossible but I managed to get my skiing back to normal and luckily the snow got a bit harder and I managed to make up a lot of time,” he rejoiced afterwards.

Matt and Hirscher’s podium double bring Austria’s alpine skiing haul at these Olympics to nine medals — including three golds — out of a total 31.

But the tricky course, set by Ante Kostelic — father of 2010 Olympic silver medallist Ivica, who finished joint-ninth on Saturday — drew some serious criticism after it caused many of the top favourites to crash out.

These included Felix Neureuther of Germany, France’s Alexis Pinturault and Jean-Baptiste Grange, and Sweden’s slalom bronze medallist from Vancouver, Andre Myhrer.

Kostelic is known for his tortuous courses but newly-crowned giant slalom champion Ligety, who also went out, slammed the race as a “battle of attrition” and “not the most fair”.

“(It’s) borderline unsportsmanlike to set those kinds of courses on these kinds of hills.”

“This is the Olympics, you’re trying to showcase our sport to the rest of the world and I don’t think this does us any favours, especially when you have 12 guys in the top 30 go out, that’s not an ideal setting.”

A visibly annoyed Kostelic hit back, insisting he was a fair setter: “Modern Olympics began with one motto: Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Stronger). That’s all.”

The Croat already had tongues wagging last week after he set the slalom run of the super-combined, in which his son won silver.

But he got some backing from third-placed Kristoffersen.

“I was really disappointed after the first run but when I saw the course in second run I thought now I might have a chance.

So thank you Ante Kostelic for that one!”

Hirscher also was supportive: “Hats off to the course setter. Not everyone would have had the guts to (set such a course).”

“I prefer if we’re challenged… I had lots of fun racing the course,” he added.

Defending Olympic champion Giuliano Razzoli of Italy, 16th after the first run, also crashed out in the second round.

2014-02-23

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