Giant slalom winner navigates an unexpected rival: Fresh powder
By Matthew Futterman
Marco Odermatt of Switzerland, the world’s top giant slalom skier, won the event at the Beijing Olympics on Sunday, navigating an unusual — and perhaps unwelcome — coating of fresh powder to earn his first gold medal.
Odermatt, 24, finished with a combined time of 2 minutes 9.35 seconds, 22 hundredths of a second faster than the silver medalist, Zan Kranjec of Slovenia. Mathieu Faivre of France took the bronze.
The race took place after heavy snow and high winds delayed the start by 75 minutes. Visibility was minimal, with skiers barely able to see beyond the next gate and not able to discern the safe terrain from the more slick and dangerous as they navigated the 49 gates on the steep, tight slope nicknamed Ice River.
Of the 89 skiers who started the race, 33 failed to make it through the first run and advance to the second. And it wasn’t just the novices. Skiers from nontraditional skiing countries like Haiti and Ghana struggled. But so did Ryan Cochran-Siegle, the American who won the silver medal in super G last week. He skied out, as did the rising Norwegian Atle McGrath and several other top competitors on the World Cup tour.
Skiers prefer to race on a hard, consistent, even icy surface rather than trying to fight their way through 6 inches of fresh powder, which is what they were contending with through the morning and into the second run during the early afternoon.
“It’s tough, but we’ve raced in tougher conditions, so we knew we were going to go ahead with it,” said Luca de Aliprandini of Italy, the second man down the mountain.
Lucas Braathen of Norway said that working through the snow requires more effort and beats up the body far more than zipping down a fast, groomed course.
“The problem is you are in smooth snow, and then all of a sudden you are in the rough stuff, and you can’t tell what is coming up next,” he said.
Conditions worsened and grew slower as the race wore on, which meant that starting early on the first run proved to be a major advantage. But another eight skiers failed to finish their second run.
“The conditions are the same for every man,” said Adam Zampa of Slovakia. “I don’t know whether to say we should have delayed. It’s funny because every day we have been here it has been sunny, and every day after today it will be good weather.”