With the close of a successful FIS Alpine World Ski Championships, I thought it fitting to share some highlights as seen by the Alpine Insider. So here is my top 10 list:
#10 – The Snow/weather: Cortina d’Ampezzo welcomed athletes with three days of delay as “Madre Natura” (Mother Nature) dumped up to a meter of snow on the northern Italian Alps. Throw in a pinch of fog, wind, and avalanche danger and you have a recipe for a delayed competition. The Women’s Alpine Combined race scheduled for Monday, February 8, was the first event canceled. On Tuesday, February 9, the women attempted to run the Super-G and got as far as the start gate, although there is a chance that they didn’t find it because of dense fog. After a 90-minute wait (or search for the start gate, I’m not sure which), officials were forced to postpone that race as well. FIS (International Ski Federation) officials finally relented to the reality of the mountain’s conditions and opted to delay Wednesday’s races, waiting for forecasted sunshine on Thursday and providing crews a day to work on the venue’s courses.
#9 – Did anyone else notice Germany showed up for the games?: The answer is a definitive “Yes”! I submit as “Exhibit A” my German wife who was naturally keen to follow the progress and ultimately pleased with the performance of the German team. Naturally, many countries collected multiple medals at the games (sadly “multiple” translates to “two” in Italian…see #3 below), but the Germans’ multiple-medal performance was not widely anticipated. Teammates Kira Weidle and Andreas Sander each picked up a silver medal in the Downhill. It’s noteworthy that Sander’s 2nd place time was a mere 0.01 seconds behind winner Vincent Kriechmayr (AUT). Not unlike Sander, teammate Romed Baumann also found his silver medal in the Super-G only 0.07 seconds off the pace set by Kriechmayr. The German medal fest hit its final crescendo with a 3rd place finish in the Team Parallel Slalom. Three silver medals and a bronze medal, undoubtedly a strong showing for Germany!
#8 – The Parallel Slalom (again): This falls into the “here we go again” category. Consider the drama and excitement of a bracketed lineup, and head-to-head elimination round competition, all produced for adoring fans and the viewing audience. Sounds great right? Not so fast. This much-maligned, highly debated race continues to be the proverbial albatross around the neck of FIS. For better or worse, Parallel Slalom organizers intend to create ski racing’s version of “March Madness”. However, regrettably no two slalom tracks are created equal. Sure, each head-to-head race is scored by the lowest combined time of two runs (one on each track), inevitably though circumstances exist that prove unfavorable to some loose assemblage of competitors and coaches.
Making matters worse (if that was possible and it was), was the race’s uncertain standings at the finish. Italian Marta Bassino was initially awarded the gold medal, but officials later ruled based on an obscure rule (someone please provide an explanation here) that Austrian Katharina Liensberger would be also awarded 1st place, resulting in dual Gold medals. Fair to say the event will continue to be debate fodder for ski racing aficionados and “apres-ski” deliberations.
#7 – Max Muzaton’s Super-G run: If “artistic merit” factored into scoring of the Super-G, well, France’s Max Muzaton’s recovery from a crash in progress would have been a “Perfect 10”! If you haven’t already, you’ve got to see this for yourself.
#6 – The Men’s Giant Slalom: World Cup Overall Leader Alexis Pinturault (FRA) came in heavily favored to win the Championship’s gold medal in the Giant Slalom. The Frenchman lived up to the hype of his signature event in the first run posting a 0.40 lead in front of the competition going into the second run. But this would not be his day. At approximately 15 seconds into the race, the French Veteran slid on his inside boot and on to the course at gate seven dashing his hopes for gold.
Alternatively, fellow countryman Mathieu Faivre’s (FRA) fast time on the course proved enough for the race’s top spot earning his second gold medal (Parallel Slalom) of the games and joining the ranks of Kriechmayr (AUT) and Gut-Behrami (SWI) and Katharina Liensberger (AUT) in the double gold club. Stunned by the result, the unlikely hero stood in the finish area hunched over in disbelief with his hands on his head when a jubilant, fist-pumping Luca di’Aliprandini of Italy administered a bear hug to Faivre in celebration of his Silver medal and Team Italia’s second (and final) medal of the games. Austrian Marco Schwartz rounded out the podium in 3rd, adding a bronze medal to his gold in the Men’s Alpine Combined. As for Pinturault, he left the Championships after a respectable performance, earning the silver in the Alpine Combined and a bronze in the Super-G.
#5 – Swiss sensation Lara Gut-Behrami’s streak continues!: Lara Gut-Behrami is enjoying her best season since her injury in 2017. She headed into the Championships as the favorite following four consecutive Super-G wins and seven podium appearances.
Her success continued in Cortina with a bronze medal performance in the Downhill and impressive wins in the Super-G and Giant Slalom. She now holds a commanding lead in the season’s standings for the Super-G and is now in hot pursuit of the Overall Crystal Globe by only 42 points behind Petra Vlhova with a month of competition left.
#4 –Austrian Gold Medal haul: The Austrian team dominated the championships, earning seven medals in total (five gold, one silver, and one bronze). Vincent Kriechmayr dominated the speed events capturing gold in the Super-G and Downhill. Teammate Marco Schwarz won the gold medal in the Alpine Combined and the bronze medal in the Giant Slalom.
Then there was the performance of Austrian Katharina Liensberger. First, consider the standout performances by Liensberger in the Alpine Combined (dual Gold with Marta Bassino) and 3rd place finish in the Giant Slalom behind winner Lara Gut-Behrami by 0.09 seconds. But the true highlight of her championships was the “Masterclass” she taught in last Saturday’s Slalom. The 23-year-old Austrian delivered a dominating, near-perfect performance in the first run outpacing Petra Vhlova (SVK) and the rest of the pack by a full second. Her second run was no less stunning securing her the victory and second Gold medal of the Championships.
#3 – The Italian Medal Drought: Ugh. I don’t really want to write this one but feel I must in the interest of journalistic responsibility. Let’s just say Team Italia did not live up to expectations. In fact, their performance was about as flat as “Pizza Margherita”.
It’s fair to say in both real and figurative terms that the team just did not show up. In real terms, Soffia Goggia was highly favored to dominate the speed events but was sidelined from the (at-home) Championships with multiple compound fractures in her right knee suffered in Crans Montana. In figurative terms, other Italian A-listers just did not deliver. Frederica Brignone who has struggled all season finished a paltry 10th in the Super-G and skied out of the Giant Slalom. Albeit better but nonetheless disappointing was Dominic Paris who finished in 4th in the Downhill and 5th in the Super-G. While Marta Bassino shared a gold medal win with Katharina Liensberger in the much-maligned Parallel Slalom, she did so at the expense of Brignone (they went head-to-head) who placed 6th in the event. That didn’t really do much for team morale. But let’s finish this on a positive note. One bright spot in the Italian Team’s performance was the exiting 2nd place finish by Luca di’Aliprandini in the Men’s Giant Slalom. His excitement was unmatched, enjoyable to watch, and uplifting for the team and the Italian fans.
#2 – Four events/four medals for Mikaela Shiffrin: Coming into Cortina Shiffrin eyed four (individual) events electing to sit out the Downhill and Parallel Slalom. In Shiffrin fashion, she made four podium appearances claiming the gold in the Alpine Combined, Silver in the Super-G and Giant Slalom, and a bronze in Slalom. While the 3rd place Slalom finish ended her historic, four-time gold medal streak in the World Championships, Shiffrin seemed unaffected stating: “I don’t think I ever would have said that I could win four medals in one World Champs…if you would have asked me five years ago or even, maybe especially, one year ago. It’s amazing!” Her four-medal performance pads an already impressive resume that puts in a three-way tie (with Sweden’s Anja Paerson and French great Marielle Goitschel) for the most World Championship medals (11), and most world titles by a US skier (6).
#1: 2021 World Championships a Success amid the COVID Pandemic!: No feat of athleticism, thrill of victory, or agony of defeat can outshine the fact that the 2021 Cortina FIS Alpine World Ski Championships were held, conducted safely, and provided coming together of nations for sports competition when we needed it most. Careful planning by FIS in partnership with the Cortina organizing committee, officials, coaches, and athletes are due an enormous amount of credit. Thank you!