Mission accomplished as Marcel Hirscher clinches alpine combined Olympic gold

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Marcel Hirscher underlined his status as the best skier of his generation with a first, long-overdue Olympic gold in the alpine combined on Tuesday.

“Everyone’s been saying, ‘Nice career, but an Olympic gold medal is still missing’. This is perfect, unbelievable,” said Hirscher, who has won an unprecedented six consecutive World Cup overall titles on the back of 55 victories on the circuit.

But his Olympic history is more patchy: twice fourth in the giant slalom and a fifth in the 2010 slalom before grabbing silver in Sochi, leading to questions about his real legacy.

“This stupid question has now gone away, if I’m thinking that my career is perfect without a gold medal, now this question is zzz, deleted,” he said.

“I’m not travelling home tomorrow, but if I wished to I could because I have my big goal and I reached it.

“In Austria everyone’s expecting that I’m going to win a gold medal at least once. I’m super, super happy, I didn’t expect to win this in the combined.”

Hirscher, 28, made the most of a shortened opening downhill course on which the jumps were largely eliminated.

It was the perfect slope for the Austrian, and his 12th fastest time set him up perfectly for the slalom.

“It was an amazing downhill, maybe my best downhill ever. I killed it,” Hirscher said. “The shorter the downhill the better for the technical guys!”

He then made no mistake in the slalom, a discipline he has dominated in the World Cup this season with six victories.

Hirscher charged down with the fastest time to give him an unassailable lead over France’s Alexis Pinturault.

“The slalom course was very aggressive, really hard to gain speed and find the right line,” Hirscher said.

“Even for us slalom skiers, it was not easy to find the right line.”

Silver medallist Pinturault was followed home by teammate Victor Muffat-Jeandet in the country’s first podium showing in the combined since Henri Oreiller (gold) and James Couttet (bronze) in 1948.

“We are not competing for this kind of result or thinking of history,” Pinturault said of the 70-year gap in combined medals.

“It’s something good that this really old Olympic record has come down, but it was not the goal when we were at the start.”

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Kei Saito insists he will fight to clear his name after first doping scandal hits Winter Olympics

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On thin ice: Kei Sato.

Japanese short-track speed skater Kei Saito vowed to clear his name on Tuesday after testing positive for a banned substance in the first doping case to hit the Pyeongchang Olympics.

The 21-year-old is the first Japanese to test positive at a Winter Olympics and he was immediately thrown out of the Games on Monday.

The case will no doubt embarrass Japan, organisers of the Summer Games in 2020, and again forces the drug issue to the fore after Russia were formally banned for state-sponsored doping.

Saito returned positive tests for acetazolamide, an unauthorised diuretic which can be used to mask powerful performance-enhancing drugs.

“I want to fight to prove my innocence because I don’t remember (taking the drug) and it’s incomprehensible,” Saito said in a statement.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which handles doping cases during the Games, said Saito had left the athletes’ Olympic Village voluntarily and would be provisionally suspended from all competition pending a full investigation.

The head of the Japanese Olympic delegation in Pyeongchang, Yasuo Saito, said the skater was the first Japanese athlete to test positive for doping at a Winter Olympic Games.

The athlete was “surprised and dismayed” by the outcome of the drugs test, he said.

Kei Sato (top row, far l) poses with teammate after the Japan Short Track Speed Skating Team for the Winter Olympic Games is announced in December.

Kei Sato (top row, far l) poses with teammates after the Japan short track speed skating team for the Winter Olympics is announced in December.

Saito, a human biology student whose sister Hitomi is also competing in Pyeongchang, arrived at the Athletes Village on February 4.

He was woken up at 02:00 the following morning by doping testers who took two samples.

“Both samples tested positive,” said the head of the delegation, who is also the vice-president of the Japan Olympic Committee.

Short-track speed skater Saito was a member of Japan’s 3,000m relay team that finished third at the 2013 and 2014 world junior championships.

He was pencilled in as a substitute for the 5,000m on Tuesday and could have raced in other events in Pyeongchang.

Saito was summoned before a CAS tribunal on Monday following the positive tests for acetazolamide, a medication used to treat complaints ranging from epilepsy to heart failure.

However, it works also as a masking agent that can hide or make it harder for testers to detect the presence of doping products.

Saito said he was innocent of any wrongdoing and had been tested prior to the Games, on January 29, and been found to be drug-free.

“As for the test results this time, the only possibility I can think of is that I accidentally and unconsciously put a banned substance in my mouth,” he added.

He had no need to ingest masking agents, he said.

“I’ve never used body-enhancing drugs so I don’t think about hiding it,” he said. “There’s no merit or motive for me in using this medicine.”

The IOC and anti-doping authorities have stepped up testing for the Pyeongchang Games following revelations of a state-sponsored doping scheme at the last Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in 2014.

The entire Russian team was banned from Pyeongchang but a loophole allowed 168 “clean” athletes to compete as independent athletes under a neutral flag.

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International Ski Federation defend decision to go ahead with women's snowboard slopestyle final at Winter Olympics

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Britain's Aimee Fuller.

The International Ski Federation has defended its decision to go ahead with the women’s snowboard slopestyle final on Monday despite gusting winds at the Phoenix Snow Park.

Qualification was cancelled on Sunday due to the windy conditions and in the final many riders crashed on at least one of their two runs.

Britain’s Aimee Fuller, who crashed on her second run after being caught by a gust of wind, said she felt “lucky to be in one piece” afterwards.

FIS head of communications Jenny Wiedeke was asked if the event should have gone ahead in the conditions at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics daily briefing on Tuesday.

She said: “We know there were adverse weather conditions but FIS officials monitored training extremely carefully.

“In the final itself the officials watched the wind conditions very carefully throughout. No athlete is forced to go down and compete.”

Wiedeke, asked about athletes making advsere comments about the conditions after competing, said: “The bulk of the reaction was in the mixed zone rather than directed towards FIS officials.

“I spoke to my race director. He said only one team came to him to say something (about the conditions). It wasn’t a protest that was registered. They just went to the race director and voiced their concern about the wind conditions.”

Wiedeke was not willing to say which team had registered its concern.

Alpine skiing events have been postponed and rescheduled due to the high winds and Wiedeke was asked why the same decision had not been made for the slopestyle final.

“We are talking about two venues that are separated by 50kms,” she said.

“I was at the alpine venue yesterday. It is at 1,500 metres on exposed mountainside. The Phoenix Snow Park is at 700 metres. The winds at the alpine venue were pretty much so strong that you couldn’t stand up straight. So it was a very clear decision (to postpone).

“We were also able to hold ski jumping (on Monday) which is extremely wind sensitive. Weather conditions are very localised.

“Ski jumping has very precise thresholds (for wind strength). They have wind measuring equipment. For our other disciplines it is up to our sport and technical experts to assess the conditions. We have a very experienced group of technical officials that make these decisions.”

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