podium

Austria’s Marcel Hirscher wins Adelboden slalom, takes World Cup points lead

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With the clock ticking down to the start of the Olympics, every race is becomes more critical for fine-tuning things before heading to Sochi.

One skier who seems to be well dialed in is Austria’s Marcel Hirscher, who fought through the soft snow and rapidly deteriorating course conditions to win the World Cup slalom in Adelboden, Switzerland.

Hirscher, the two-time defending World Cup overall champion, lost some most of his first-run advantage at the top of the second run but was masterful carving through the gates on the steep final pitch to finish in front of Sweden’s Andre Myhrer, by 0.29 seconds. The runner-up effort was the best of the season for Myhrer and the 16th slalom podium of his career.

“It is really tough,” Hirscher said. “But I am not sure which was tougher, to ski it or prepare the course with weather at 10-plus degrees (Celsius). But it’s kind of a special race and it’s working pretty well for me.”

Teenager Henrik Kristoffersen of Norway was third, 0.66 behind Hirscher. It matched the best finish of his young career, another third-place performance in Levi, Finland on Nov. 17, and came one day after he almost collided with a television production worker who strayed on the course during Saturday’s giant slalom.

“I skied over the back of his skis,” Kristoffersen told AP. “I was definitely touching him a little bit there. (It) happens. We’re only humans.”

The victory earned Hirscher his 25th career podium placement in the discipline, making him the 12th skier in history to score as many Top 3 finishes. At 24 years and 316 days old, he is also the third youngest ever to accomplish the feat behind Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden (21 years, 270 days) and Gustav Thoeni of Italy (23 years, 336 days).

With 100 race points for victory, Hirscher now leads Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway by 23 points in the overall standings. Svindal skips slalom races.

American David Chodounsky had a strong showing, toughing out the second run to finish eighth, the second-best slalom result of his career behind Dec. 15’s seventh-place showing in Val d’Isere, France. With just two more slalom races before the Games, the 29-year-old is pleased with his progression.

“It’s a really tough sport, especially on days like today,” Chodounsky said. “It was fast and it’s the steepest pitch on the tour but for me it was solid. This year, the snow is not great and it’s very warm. The course gets rutty. In the second run it starts to get dark as the sun goes down. It’s got all sorts of tricks to throw at you. I had a couple of mistakes but if I can clean that up, it will be really good. I am happy with where I am.”

Adelboden wasn’t as kind to American stars Ted Ligety and Bode Miller.

Ligety, who caught an unlucky bump and straddled a gate during the second run of giant slalom on Saturday, skied off course again in the second run of slalom. Miller, a winner on this course in slalom in 2002, skied out in Saturday’s first run of giant slalom and then lost his race line and speed at the top of the final pitch in this race and finished 43rd, not good enough to make the Top 30 and earn a second run.

Fellow American teammates Colby Granstrom and Nolan Kasper finished 39th and 44th respectively, and did not qualify for a second run.

Germany’s Felix Neureuther, who won the Bormio slalom last Monday and was a surprise and historic winner in Saturday’s giant slalom, had his dream bid for an unprecedented technical sweep in Adelboden dashed when he straddled a gate and skied off course late in the second run. No German man has won back-to-back World Cup slalom races since Armin Bittner in 1988-89. Neureuther’s father, Christian, also won consecutive slaloms in January 1973 and January 1974.

Adelboden Men’s Slalom

1. Marcel Hirscher (AUT) 1:49.75

2. Andre Myhrer (SWE) 1:50.04

3. Henrik Kristoffersen (NOR) 1:50.41

4. Mattias Hargin (SWE) 1:50.55

5. Manfred Moelgg (ITA) 1:50.75

6. Patrick Thaler (ITA) 1:50.97

7. Markus Larsson (SWE) 1:51.06

8. David Chodounsky (USA) 1:51.45

9. Stefano Gross (ITA) 1:51.49

10. Benjamin Raich (AUT) 1:51.59

DNF. Ted Ligety (USA)

DNQ. Bode Miller (USA)

DNQ. Nolan Kasper (USA)

DNQ. Colby Granstrom (USA)

Canada’s Marie-Michele Gagnon gets 1st World Cup victory in Altenmarkt super-combined

Canada’s Marie-Michele Gagnon gets 1st World Cup victory in Altenmarkt super-combined

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Thought it was going to be another day of Austrian home cooking in Altenmarkt, eh?

Well, Canada had something to say about that.

Technical specialist Marie-Michele Gagnon kept herself within reasonable striking distance on the opening super-G leg and then rose to the occasion in slalom, watching with baited breath as many of her faster peers faltered, insuring her of her first career World Cup victory in Sunday’s super-combined, the one and only race before next month’s Sochi Olympics.

Since the inception of super-combined in 2005-06, no Canadian skier in either gender had made a podium in this discipline. Canada’s last World Cup podium in any combination race was Emily Broydon’s third place in the San Sicaro combined in February 2005, and its last victory was by Gerry Sorensenin in 1984.

“It’s really exciting, a magical moment,” Gagnon, who wasn’t even born when Sorensenin won, told AP. “All the pieces of the puzzle are coming together. I couldn’t be happier. “My teammate Erin Mielzynski won two years ago in Ofterschwang. She was the first Canadian woman to win in slalom in like 40 years. That was unbelievable and I didn’t expect our team to make history again.”

Austria’s Michaela Kirchgasser finished second while Germany’s Maria Hoefl-Riesch regained the World Cup overall standings lead with a third-place finish. Nicole Hosp of Austria, who led after the opening super-G run, wound up fourth, ahead of Sweden’s Sara Hector and reigning World Cup champion Tina Maze of Slovenia.

It was a rough day for the American women, who had four skiers not finish the race. Surprisingly, their difficulties occurred in the super-G, where speed specialists Stacey Cook and Leanne Smith made mistakes and missed gates, as did Vancouver Olympic silver medalist Julia Mancuso, who last won a super-combi in January 2007, and up-and-coming racer Julia Ford.

Most of the 19 starters who failed to finish the super-G went out at the Panorama, a sharp right turn about 40 seconds into the run. Going into the curve with too much speed made it difficult to make the next gate.

Laurenne Ross, the one American speed skier outside of Mancuso who is most comfortable on slalom skis, survived that turn to make it to the second run. She finished 20th.

Since December 2007, there have been 15 super-combined races contested on the World Cup circuit and only four skiers have teamed to win all those races. American Lindsey Vonn won five, Hoefl-Riesch won four, and Maze and Anja Paerson of Sweden each won three.

With Vonn not skiing as she prepares for a second surgery on her injured right knee and Paerson, the six time Olympic medalist, now retired, who would emerge to challenge Hoefl-Riesch and Maze for the top of the podium?

Gagnon might not have been anyone’s first choice.

Coming into this race, the 24 year old had attained just one podium finish in her career, a third-place effort in slalom in Are, Sweden in March of 2012, and her best result in a World Cup super-combined was last February’s fifth-place finish in Meribel, France.

But the opening run, which is usually a downhill, was contested as a super-G, which suits Gagnon’s strengths. This season, she has finished in the top 10 in two of the three super-G races. She gave herself a fighting chance by finishing 13th, 1.37 seconds behind Hosp, who won a World Cup combi in 2007, the last skier outside of the aforementioned four who have dominated the event recently to have done so.

While a gap of nearly a second and a half would be insurmountable in other disciplines, that is not the case in super-combined, where the speed racers often get off to a flying start but are humbled in the slalom. That proved to be the case once again in this instance, where Gagnon, who dates American speed racer Travis Ganong, built herself a .32 seconds advantage after her slalom run and watched as 12 other skiers failed to overtake her.

“It’s amazing. I was quite surprised,” Gagnon said. “I didn’t expect that after the first run. I knew I had to do a really good slalom run to be on the podium. I just tried to do my best and it looks like the pieces of the puzzle have come together.”

Altenmarkt Women’s Super-Combined

1. Marie-Michele Gagnon (CAN) 2:05.55

2. Michaela Kirchgasser (AUT) 2:05.87

3. Maria Hoefl-Riesch (GER) 2:05.94

4. Nicole Hosp (AUT) 2:06.06

5. Sara Hector (SWE) 2:06.42

6. Tina Maze (SLO) 2:06.68

7. Ramona Siebenhofer (AUT) 2:06.72

8. Anna Fenninger (AUT) 2:06.73

9. Sarka Strachova (CZE) 2:06.82

10. Denise Feierabend (SUI) 2:06.86

20. Laurenne Ross (USA) 2:08.70

DNF. Julia Mancuso (USA)

DNF. Stacey Cook (USA)

DNF. Leanne Smith (USA)

DNF. Julia Ford (USA)

Picabo Street believes Lindsey Vonn will race for one more season