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Slalom Course Shuts Down American Men

Slalom Course Shuts Down American Men

[ Sat, 2010-02-27 17:56 ]
Skier after skier struggled with the first run of today's slalom event. Here Norway's Lars Elton Myhre loses control before crashing during the first run of the Men's slalom, at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Whistler, British Columbia, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2010. (AP Photo/Gero Breloer)
A ninth Olympic medal for the U.S. Ski Team was not to be as the top two U.S. contenders skied off the tricky course early in the first run.

The DNF list from the first run of the men's slalom event was half as long as the start list, causing many athletes and viewers to question the course setup. Three-time medalist at these games Aksel Lund Svidal of Norway Tweeted his thoughts while watching the race from home. Set by the Canadian coach, the course was unusually straight and very fast, Svindal suggested, only compounding the challenge presented by the rainy weather. Of the 102 athletes who started the first run, 43 missed gates, crashed or skied off the course. Those included Ted Ligety, 2006 combined gold medalist, and Bode Miller, who was looking to become the first man in history to medal in all five Olympic events.

Ligety, skiing 17th, got to about the halfway point before getting compressed and thrown off his line. In his last event of these games, where he's failed to medal, Ligety put it all on the line. "I was trying to go for a medal and didn't want to be slow and regret it," he told reporters after the race. That all-or-nothing sentiment sounds awfully familiar among the U.S. skiers in these games. And it wouldn't be a stretch to say it's an attitude they learned from teammate Bode Miller. Known for putting more value on aggressive, take-no-prisoners skiing than on medal counts, Miller has succeeded as grandly as he's failed with that approach.

Through the first three events here, however, Miller seemed different. He appeared slightly less aggressive and more strategic. His controlled skiing and apparently level head got him to the podium in the speed events and the combined. The technical events have been another story. In the GS on Thursday, he was attacking the first run right out of the gate, but his speed would prove too much for him, and he skied off the course. Miller, who hasn't finished a single first run of slalom on the World Cup circuit this season, crushed the slalom portion of the super combined to walk away with the gold medal. That victory, combined with his silver in super G and bronze in downhill, had many people—himself included—confident that a fourth medal at these games was well within reach. That, too, would have been a record, as no alpine skier has ever won four events at a single games. But just eight seconds into the first slalom run, Miller hooked a ski tip and straddled a gate, much like Lindsey Vonn had done during the first run of the women's event on Thursday.

At the end of the first run, most of the medal favorites were still standing, however. Among them were Austria's Benjamin Raich, who entered the second run in third place. The perennially dominant Austrians have failed to earn a medal at these games, shocking the entire alpine skiing community and the ski-crazed nation. Raich's teammate and slalom world champion Manfred Pranger had one of the more spectacular crashes in the same spot that tripped up Ted Ligety. Mitja Valencic of Slovenia finished the first run in second place, and Italy's Giuliano Razzoli was first.

The second run saw significantly slower times, but only two of the top 30 racers failed to finish. Sweden's Andre Myhrer, skiing 21st, turned in the fastest time in the second run, and it was good enough to hold him in gold medal position until Croatia's Ivica Costelic, skiing 27th, edged him out by .28 seconds.

Last to ski, Razzoli turned in only the seventh-fastest time in the second run, but it was enough to keep him in first place. His gold today is the country's first alpine medal since Alberto Tomba won silver in slalom in 1994.