Swedish veteran Andre Myhrer took a shock slalom men’s gold at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on Thursday as the two favourites both spectacularly bombed out.
Ramon Zenhaeusern of Switzerland won silver, 0.34sec behind, and Michael Matt of Austria the bronze after his compatriot Marcel Hirscher and then Henrik Kristoffersen of Norway imploded.
Myhrer, at 35 years and 42 days, becomes the oldest Olympic slalom winner, breaking the record set by Austria’s Mario Matt in 2014.
He also follows Ingemar Stenmark, who won the slalom and giant slalom in 1980, as only the second Swedish man to claim an Olympic alpine skiing gold.
“It means everything. I’ve been training my whole life for a moment like this,” said the unheralded Swede, who also took slalom bronze in 2010.
“I took a medal in Vancouver, a bronze, but I’ve been always dreaming about the gold medal and now it’s a reality and I’m totally blown away.”
Myhrer said that he feared his chance had gone as he came to the end of his run.
“I haven’t seen the split times but that was my feeling coming into the last part and I just tried to force everything I had,” he said, after clocking a winning combined time of 1:38.99.
“And luckily it was enough to go home with the gold.”
‘I SKIED REALLY BADLY’
Myhrer could hardly believe his luck as favourites Hirscher and Kristoffersen bombed out.
He went into the second and final run in second place behind Kristoffersen, who went fastest in the morning and looked to have one hand on the title.
But nerves appeared to get the better of Kristoffersen, who was going last, and his dreams of a first Olympic gold were obliterated when he failed to finish his second run.
Just as surprisingly, Hirscher crashed out in the morning run, ruining his hopes of a golden hat-trick in South Korea.
Hirscher, 28, failed to find his rhythm on a course set by his own coach, Michael Pircher, and eventually missed a gate to fail to even make the second run.
Hirscher – who had already won the men’s alpine combined and giant slalom at these Games, his first individual Olympic titles – revealed he had never been comfortable in the lead-up to the slalom, even in training.
“The feeling was really bad the whole week on slalom skis and this is the final result,” he said.
“I had absolutely no confidence on this kind of snow. I skied really badly. This is what also can happen and is part of the game, part of the sport.
“You have success and sometimes you have not the best days.”
Hirscher had been aiming to become only the fourth skier in history to win a third gold medal at a single Olympics, joining Austria’s Toni Sailer (1956), Frenchman Jean-Claude Killy and Croatia’s Janica Kostelic (2002).
Norway’s Marit Bjoergen became the most successful athlete in Winter Olympic history on Wednesday as she took bronze behind a stunning win for USA in cross-country skiing’s women’s team sprint free.
Bjoergen’s bronze with Maiken Caspersen Falla put her on 14 Olympic medals, outstripping fellow Norwegian Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, who has 13 in biathlon.
“It’s hard to understand, actually,” Bjoergen said.
“I think I’ll need to have time to myself and look behind me and look how I’ve been able to do this. It’s still hard to understand it when I’m standing here.”
Bjoergen, 37, is also the second most successful woman at either the Summer or Winter Games, trailing only Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina with 18 medals.
Kikkan Randall and Jessica Diggins celebrated ecstatically as they edged Sweden by 0.19sec to win the first Olympic cross-country title for the United States.
Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby and Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo won the men’s title by 1.71sec ahead of the Olympic Athletes from Russia, with France finishing third.
.@maritbjoergen becomes the most decorated Winter Olympian ever as she & @FalleriFallera #NOR win #CrossCountrySkiing team sprint free #bronze 👏@idrett More #PyeongChang2018 news here: https://t.co/jZUV6YSTnB pic.twitter.com/pLp2gyeIqZ
— Olympic Channel (@olympicchannel) February 21, 2018
When you tune in to the Winter Olympics, you expect to see the top athletes in the world in their respective sports.
Well, that’s not the experience viewers have gotten with men’s hockey at Pyeongchang. Unlike the women’s event, which features the best of the best, the men’s tournament is completely devoid of the game’s most talented players.
You can thank the NHL for that. Back in April of last year, the league made the call to pass on sending its players to the Olympics, ending a run of five consecutive Games involving NHL names.
Ovi with a shoutout to Gary Bettman for not letting NHL'ers in the olympics this year. 😤😤👏 pic.twitter.com/WqGnzIhOo7— Hockey Central (@HockeyCentraI) February 13, 2018
While the withdrawal comes at the detriment of hockey fans, if you put yourself in the NHL’s shoes, it’s completely understandable why they would say ‘thanks, but no thanks’ to the Olympics.
At the end of the day, it was a business decision.
If the Olympics had been staged in North America, the cost benefit and convenience of playing in a more local market could have persuaded the league. But with the Games staged across the globe in South Korea, the nature of that market means little opportunity to grow the NHL brand. And with the time difference starting at 14 hours, TV viewership in North America is severely handicapped.
Then there’s what the NHL would be losing out on back home. Having an extended break at this time of the year, when the NFL is between the Super Bowl and draft, the MLB has yet to start spring training and the NBA is in the dog days of the regular season, would rob the league of its chance to capitalise on the relatively quiet landscape of American sports.
Throw in potential injuries suffered by star players at the Olympics and the argument for the NHL staying away becomes clearer.
With all that said, it just feels wrong to not be watching the best players in international sport’s biggest stage. What’s the point of the Olympics otherwise?
No offence to the players in this edition’s men’s event, or to the ‘Miracle on Ice’ of 1980 when amateur players from the United States shocked the Soviet Union, but the quality is not what it should be.
Maybe you wouldn’t be consistently tuning in to hockey at the Olympics without at least being a casual fan of the NHL, but it’s also possible that the league could have gained more than a few new followers off the back of the Games alone.
As far as this year goes, we’ll never know. But it’s fair to say that the NHL isn’t thriving enough for the league to play it this safe.