By Chris Dufresne Los Angeles Times
SOCHI, Russia — The last night of Alpine racing at the Sochi Olympics could have been billed “Austria’s revenge.”
Four years ago, America defeated Austria, 8-4, in the Alpine medal count.
It was like “man bites Dachshund” in racing circles and didn’t go over well in Innsbruck.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the Austrian women did all the heavy lifting.
On their way out of Vancouver, the Austrian men easily passed through the airport medal detector because they didn’t win any.
Sochi had to be different and it was.
Saturday night, under the lights at Rosa Khotur in the final Olympic Alpine event, the Austria men went 1-2 in the slalom.
A night after America’s Mikaela Shiffrin, at 18, became the youngest skier to win the slalom, Austria’s Mario Matt became the oldest skier to win an Olympic Alpine event.
Matt turns 35 in April and won his first Olympic medal with a two-run time of 1 minute 41.84.
He had never finished better than 34th in an Olympic race.
“A massive goal has come through for me today,” Matt said.
Matt had the fastest time in the first run and held off teammate Marcel Hirscher in the second run for the gold. Hirscher is the No.1 ranked slalom racer in the world and charged all the way from ninth to second to win the silver.
Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen, only 19, came from 15th in the first run to win the bronze. He became the youngest man to earn an Olympic Alpine medal.
The two closing night medals upped Austria’s final alpine count to nine, with the U.S. finishing with five.
The Americans weren’t supposed to be a factor in the event, although Ted Ligety at least made it interesting.
Three days after winning gold in giant slalom, Ligety finished sixth after the first run. That put him 0.86 behind Matt and only 0.11 out of third place.
Ligety became one of the many to ski off course in the second run and afterward complained about the tricky course setting by Croatia’s Ante Kostelic.
The father of skiing stars Janica and Ivica has a reputation for difficult course settings, but Ligety said Saturday’s second run set exceeded reasonable limits.
“Typical Ante course set, which is borderline unsportsmanlike, to set those courses on these kind of hills,” Ligety said.
Ligety thought the snow conditions were too soft to handle many of Kostelic’s hair-pin turns.
Ivica Kostelic finished tied for ninth, 2.27 seconds off Matt’s winning time.
Twelve of the the top 30 did not finish their second runs.
After Hirscher seized the lead with his second run, the next four racers—all world class—skied off course. The first was France’s Alexis Pintaurault, followed by Germany’s Felix Neureuther, then Ligety followed by France’s Jean-Baptiste Grange.
“That’s how it goes,” Ligety said. “Everybody had to ski it. I mean not all the best guys had a chance to make it down, unfortunately, but it is what it is. I wasn’t one of the medal favorites here so it wasn’t too frustrating for me.”
The top American was Nolan Kasper, who was 13th.
Matt had never earned an Olympic medal before Saturday but is a former two-time world slalom champion with 14 World Cup wins.
Hirscher is the two-time defending World Cup overall champion and current world cup slalom champion.
Norway’s Kristoffersen is a rising young star on the circuit who won his first World Cup slalom, in Austria, just prior to the Olympics.
Kristoffersen said he was glad the course was difficult.
“Thank you Ante Kostelic,” he said. “Now I’m here.”
Matt, skiing last in the second group among the leaders, owned a 1.28 lead over Hirscher and gave away a full second of that cushion and still had .28 to spare.
“Mario one of the best slalom skiers in history,” Ligety said. “I think he especially excels when it’s not great snow conditions as well.”