Grange caps comeback season with World Champs gold medal

20 February 2011 15:10

GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany – One year ago, Jean-Baptiste Grange never would have dreamed of becoming World Slalom Champion. But on Sunday, on spring-like snow, on the last day of the 2011 world alpine ski championships at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the 26-year-old capped his amazing season returning from injury with his first gold medal.

The Frenchman who missed the Olympics and was out for most of last year’s World Cup season with a torn ligament in his right knee, put down an early lead in the first run of the slalom on the well-used Gudiberg slope in Garmisch-Partenkirchen and then held on for the gold medal, winning in a total time of 1 minute, 41.72 seconds.

“It’s just amazing for me,” Grange said. “It was so tough the last two years with the world championships in France and then my injury. I just focused to push today and cross the line.”

Grange kicked off his comeback season with an immediate win at the World Cup in Levi, then followed up with a podium in the Wengen slalom and huge victories in Kitzbuehel and Schladming. He suffered a small setback, however, injuring his shoulder in a training crash, since then but nothing appeared to be ailing him on Sunday. He did say that fighting for a win at world champs – which he failed to do in front of the home crowd in Val d’Isere in 2009, when he straddled a gate in the first run – comes with a bit more weight, especially after putting down an early lead.

“That was so tough between the two runs, so much pressure – more than the World Cup,” he said. “I knew the snow conditions were not very good. I was just focused on skiing fast and pushing on, because if I thought about everything – the medals, the pressure – that’s not going to be good. So it is a wonderful gift. I give a lot to have that. It’s perfect.”

Coming in for a surprise silver, Swedish slalom specialist Jens Byggmark made his first podium in more than three years, earning his first career medal, finishing 0.43 seconds behind Grange.

Byggmark trailed Grange by more than a second going into run No. 2, but between runs announced “I’m running for a medal. That’s why we’re all here,” and then capitalized on his coach’s second run course set.

Blazing downfast in both runs on the slushy slope, Italy’s Manfred Moelgg rounded out the podium with the bronze, finishing 0.61 seconds off Grange’s winning time. He was on Grange’s heels after the first run – just a couple of tenths behind – but had a couple of slips during the second run, during which race officials salted and watered around the gates in an effort to keep conditions consistent.

Run No. 1, set by France, took its toll on a few racers, namely Silvan Zurbriggen and 2009 slalom bronze medalist Michael Janyk, who straddled a gate at the same spot, but also one of its own. France’s Steve Missillier also went down early.

A tricky gate at the top of run No. 2 took out Reinfried Herbst, Giuliano Razzoli and local favorite Felix Neureuther, but more impressive were others outside of the medalists who mastered both.

Austrian veteran Mario Matt skied to fourth place Sunday, 0.82 seconds off of the winning time and Canada’s Julien Cousineau also came close to the hardware, finishing fifth, 0.87 back.

Wearing bib No. 25, Japan’s Naoki Yuasa made it to sixth place, 0.96 seconds off the win, and said he felt good about his race and the slushy conditions did not effect him.

“I want to be fast on all slopes, in all conditions,” he said. “These were not so bad. It was soft, but I can’t say anything, because it was soft for all and we have to be fast in everything.”

Italy’s Cristian Deville came in next, seventh and 1.06 seconds back as World Cup slalom and overall leader Ivica Kostelic, the favorite coming into the race, landed in eighth place, 1.16 seconds back, after trailing Grange by more than a second in the first run.

Also, 2009 world slalom champion Manfred Pranger couldn’t quite find medal-winning speed on Sunday and was ninth, 1.31 seconds back and Sweden’s Andre Myhrer, who was only about a half a second out after the first run, ended up 10th, 1.50 seconds back.

Click here for full results from Sunday’s world championship slalom race.