Olympic alpine skiing stays in the family in Beijing
Austrian skier Johannes Strolz was about to sit on a stage in a room packed with dozens of reporters to describe his unlikely journey to the alpine combined title at the Beijing Olympics when his phone rang. It was his father.
So while the spotlight was on him, Strolz stepped back for several minutes to answer the call, which was understandable with so much to share: they are the first father-son duo to win gold in the same Olympic ski racing event.
“He’s just upset (by) what happened today and he’s happy for me and proud of me,” Strolz said. “It’s just an amazing moment for all of us and my family.”
Strolz’s father, Hubert, won gold in the combined and silver in the giant slalom at the 1988 Calgary Games, then came close to winning another Olympic combined four years later in Albertville, but missed a door to the end of the race. Johannes was born later that year – 1992 – and Hubert took advantage of the upcoming birth of his son to help him overcome this missed opportunity.
Now, however, the family has another gold medal to celebrate.
Strolz, who has won just one World Cup slalom, finished fourth after Thursday’s downhill. But he was half a second faster than anyone else in the slalom, helping him edge first run leader Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway by 0.58 seconds.
The handset adds the times of a downhill run and a slalom run.
Jack Crawford of Canada was third, 0.68 behind Strolz.
Skiing is known as a sport passed down from generation to generation and the Beijing Olympics are quickly becoming a family affair.
In Tuesday’s super-G, American runner Ryan Cochran-Siegle clinched the silver medal 50 years after his mother, Barbara Ann Cochran, won the slalom at the 1972 Sapporo Games. The super-G was won by Matthias Mayer, an Austrian whose father, Helmut, also won a medal in the same event — silver — in Calgary.
Crawford’s aunt, Judy Crawford Rawley, finished fourth in the 1972 slalom won by Cochran.
“She always told me nobody remembers fourth place, and it feels really good not to be in that situation,” said Crawford, who finished fourth in Monday’s downhill and fourth in the combined at the world championships last year. “It’s a bit unforgiving, but it’s true at the Olympics – one medal, that’s all.”
Strolz achieved his best career result with a 10th-place finish in more than eight years of World Cup races and was dropped from the mighty Austrian squad at the end of last season. Then he won a slalom last month in Adelboden, Switzerland, and a spot on the team for the Beijing Games, where he continues to prepare his own slalom skis — as he has done all season.
Strolz spent “3-4 hours” alone in the wax room on Tuesday. His alpine skis were prepared by a professional ski technician.
“My skis were perfect, especially the alpine skis – they were absolute rockets,” Strolz said. “I bought the skis from Matthias Mayer and he obviously has very fast skis.”
Back when Strolz was struggling to make the team, he was working as a traffic cop in his hometown and helping out on the family farm.
When he placed the medal around his own neck by pandemic-era standards, Strolz was shaking his head in apparent disbelief.
“It’s really an incredible story,” said Andreas Puelacher, head coach of the Austria men’s team. “The Austrian team is a strong team and it’s not so easy to be in this team.”
For Kilde, it was his second consecutive medal after a bronze in the super-G.
“I hadn’t skied slalom for two years,” said the Norwegian sprint specialist, adding that he had received slalom advice from his girlfriend, Mikaela Shiffrin, whose 47 World Cup slalom victories world are the highest in a single event by a man or a woman. – even though the American has failed to complete her two events so far in Beijing.
“She just said to me, ‘Keep the pace and keep the skis under you.’ And that’s what I’m going to do,” Kilde said after the run.
After the slalom, Kilde recounted how he “went there, he just pointed the skis and tried to keep his balance”.
Defending overall World Cup champion Alexis Pinturault had a disappointing first run and then crashed in the slalom.
Another pre-race favourite, Loic Meillard of Switzerland, made a mistake on the descent but managed to stay on course. He failed to complete the second run after riding a gate.
Thursday’s race had just 27 entrants in total, down from more than 40 for the downhill and super-G earlier in the week. It was the first time in Olympic history that no Americans participated in the event and it may also have marked the combined final at the Olympics, with the International Ski Federation pushing to include parallel races in the program.
“It’s another discipline, another chance for us to get medals at the Olympics,” Kilde said. “So it would be a shame if they removed it.”
Israeli Barnabas Szollos was a surprise sixth place with the second fastest slalom stage.
The descent had to be delayed by about 10 minutes when Yannick Chabloz fell and was taken away in a sledge. The Swiss skier fell into a barrier and then descended part of the mountain.
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