- Alpine Skiing
Alpine skiing's Big Red Machine is back in a big way
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — After Austrian racers had on Saturday dominated yet another edition of the women’s Olympic super-G, the Canadian skier Marie-Michele Gagnon was asked the obvious: how can this be? And she laughed.
The fourth gold medal — out of eight — in Olympic super-G history? The third Olympic super-G gold in a row?
- Full even replay – women’s super-G
- Anna Fenninger leaves field in her ‘cheetah dust’
- Anna Fenninger discusses her super-G gold
- Maria Hoefl-Riesch adds SG silver to combi gold
- Nicole Hosp holds on for super-G bronze
- Julia Mancuso eighth in super-G
- Women’s super-G medal ceremony
On a day when 18 of the 49 best racers in the world – including Gagnon – didn’t even finish, the 36.7-percent attrition rate being the highest in women’s super-G Olympic history, the Austrians finished first and third, Anna Fenninger taking gold, Nicole Hosp bronze. Only a late surge into second place by Germany’s Maria Hoefl-Riesch kept it from being 1-2.
Gagnon laughed because the answer, too, was obvious.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Sochi Olympics: Women's super-G
“Why are Canadians good at hockey?” she querried. “They do it from they’re this big,” meaning from the time little Austrian boys and girls can fix skis to their boots.
“They have all the coaching. Everybody is so into it. It’s just the mecca of the sport.”
Here, the Austrian team may be walking around with cute little powder-blue caps trimmed in their trademark red. But make no mistake: the Big Red Machine is back.
After a dreadful showing in Vancouver in 2010, with only four medals overall — none from the men — the Austrians have already, with a full week to go here in Sochi, won four. Included in that total is a win in perhaps the marquee event in all of skiing, the men’s downhill, by Matthias Mayer.
To say that the Austrians are ebullient is not quite right.
Embedded video_content_type: Matthias Mayer delivers gold in men's downhill
It is more that they have again assumed what they believe is their natural place in the order of things.
As Regina Sterz of Austria, 11th in Saturday’s standings put it, “The right one wins the Olympic Games.”
As Florian Winkler, an Austrian ski coach and the course-setter for the women’s super-G race, put it, “I think we have a good team. We have a good junior system. The Austrian Ski Federation is pushing hard for success. It’s a tradition in Austria. We have a lot of passion and talented young people. I think it’s about heroes: (Hermann) Maier, (Franz) Klammer, (Michaela) Dorfmeister — they are all Olympic winners.
“Our skiers now are young and they want to be Olympic winners, too. If you are a World Cup winner or Olympic champion, you are somebody in Austria. It’s important for our nation.”
In Vancouver, the U.S. alpine team won eight medals overall. As of now — and, of course, these things can change — the U.S. team has one, Julia Mancuso’s bronze in the super-combined. She finished eighth Saturday, 1.52 seconds back.
Mancuso — bronze in the super-G at last year’s World Championships — said, “It’s confidence. The super-G is all about confidence.”
Right now, the Americans appear to be looking for it.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Anna Fenninger: Fast and beautiful, like a cheetah
“I was definitely not skiing to win,” Mancuso said. “I realized in the middle section that I was being too conservative.”
In contrast to the Americans — right now, the Austrians have confidence in abundance.
Even when they ski out, as Austria’s Elisabeth Goergl did Saturday, it’s not for a lack of belief. Afterward, she explained what animates the Austrian program.
“What you learn,” she said, “is that we are focused in working with the terrain, focused in our technique to take risk, to ski comfortably, to push it to the limit.”
For her part, Hosp said, “It always works out. We are very good at the Olympics. We totally deserve it. We have had a very good season in super-G,” with three Austrians — Fenninger, Goergl and herself — in the top five in the World Cup standings.
Or, as Fenninger said, more simply about the super-G: “It’s what I like when I go fast.”
Embedded owg_slideshow: Meet the Austrian Olympic Alpine Team
Best of Sochi