Austria brings in gold in Nations Team Event
Special to the Vail Daily
VAIL — Austria proved once again why it is the powerhouse capital of alpine skiing, winning the gold medal — its third since the event’s inception — in the Nations Team Event at Golden Peak on Tuesday.
The event features 16 nations, each represented by a team of four, two males and two females, who compete head-to-head with a racer from another nation on a short, parallel course with a couple of ledges to drop off.
With a team comprised of Marcel Hirscher and Michaela Kirchgasser, both fresh off of their medal-winning performances in the World Championships combined races, plus Eva-Marie Brem and Christoph Noesig, Austria started its siege by smothering last-seeded Argentina in Heat No. 1. Although the Norwegians put up a good fight, particularly Leif Kristian Haugen, who led his run against Hirscher until the Austrian blasted ahead at the bottom of the course, the Austrian team prevailed and moved onto the semifinals against Switzerland. After another set of tight matchups, Austria advanced to face and conquer Canada in the finals.
‘IT’S NOT THAT EASY’
“It was just a perfect day for us. Everybody was expecting us to get the gold medal, but it’s not that easy to get it,” said Austria’s Brem.
“It was an unbelievable day, a long day,” seconded Noesig. “Great jobs to all the guys on the Austrian team. It was really close from the second heat on.”
“It’s two days, two medals,” Kirchgasser said, mentioning that although the course is very short (Hirscher put down the single fastest run of the day in 22.14 seconds), tactics come into play, particularly at the start. “You need a good start that you can push the first two gates and carry that speed. Then you have to know where you have to ski tactics. When you ski everything full, it was too fast on the middle part because it was too turny. You need to get the feeling of how much can you take off.”
CANADIANS GET SILVER
The silver medal was huge for the Canadian team — Erin Mielzynski, Candace Crawford, Phil Brown and Trevor Philp — the 10th seed going into the event. Mielzynski did her part to carry the team, winning all four of her races.
“It feels good. We came back with revenge, we knew we could get the medal,” Mielzynski said, agreeing that a fast start is key. “Another important thing in the dual is skiing the ski. You can’t fight it. You have to be clean.”
Philp had to face Hirscher in the last run of the final heat, and in spite of a serious bobble that put him in the back seat, he surged on, gaining speed over the two ledges and nearly caught the Austrian, losing by just 0.11 seconds.
Crawford also sustained the worse crash of the day, doing a header over the finish line in Canada’s first heat against Germany, but brushed it off to continue racing.
SWEDES GET BRONZE
The Swedish team, comprised of Andre Myhrer, Mattias Hargin, Maria Pietilae-Holmner and Anna Swenn-Larsson, put down some exciting runs, including the only dead tie of the event in the first heat between Pietilae-Holmner and the Czech Republic’s Sarka Strachova. The Swedes came in for the bronze medal, defeating Switzerland in the small final.
Myhrer pointed out that when the Team Event made its debut in 2005, not many teams approached it very competitively. A lot has changed these days, as evidenced by the A-listers on every team.
“I think it’s a fun event. In the beginning, none of the nations were taking it seriously, but now I think everyone is putting together their best team out there,” Myhrer said.
It was Sweden who knocked Team USA out of the running in the quarterfinals. The Americans, led by Ted Ligety and Mikaela Shiffrin with Paula Moltzan and David Chodounsky, walked over Finland in the first heat but floundered against Sweden, everyone missing gates or skiing off-course besides Shiffrin, who won both of her runs.
“This event is amazing. It’s a lot of fun and it’s good for the crowd because they get to see racing the whole time,” said Shiffrin, adding that she’ll be happy to see the Team Event make its Olympic debut in 2018. “It would be a good twist. It’s nice for ski racing to have an event involving a team instead of just individuals.”
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The Glenwood Springs-Rifle sports rivalry goes way back for GSHS baseball coach and former Demons multi-sport student-athlete Eric Nieslanik.