Grange Wins Under Lights in Schladming
SCHLADMING, AUSTRIA – With 45,000 enthusiastic, flag-waving Austrian fans lining both sides of the Planai course as well as packing the bleachers and balconies surrounding the finish area, the second run of the 15th anniversary “Night Race” began under the lights with snow falling at 20:45 local time.
Jean-Baptiste Grange displayed absolute magic in the second run, attacking the piste and overcoming a huge 0.85 second first run deficit to Sweden’s Andre Myhrer to attain his third victory of the season and second in just three days.
“Just like in Kitzbuehel, I pushed really hard just to have the victory,” said Grange after the race in the finish area. “It was a dream for me to win here in Schladming, but I don’t realize it now. In three days it’s a lot (to win two races), but it’s perfect.”
Clocking the fourth fastest time of the second run, Grange became the first Frenchman to capture the Schladming “Night Slalom” in its 15-year history.
“It’s the first time so I’m happy that it’s me and I hope in the future, French racers can be on the top of the podium here again,” he said.
Myhrer – the first run leader by 0.45 over fellow Swede Mattias Hargin – was the last racer to leave the starthouse with an excited Grange down bottom in the lead. The 24-year-old from Bergsoje – who won on January 6th, also under the lights in Zagreb – made one mistake near the top of the piste and ultimately finished a mere 0.04 seconds behind the victorious Frenchman.
"He usually skis good in the second run and I knew this so I was trying to do like I did in the first and attack the hill," said Myhrer about Grange. "I made a little mistake near the top, but I think I skied pretty well down here. I'm super happy with the result. Four-hundredths is not so much, but that's the game."
In what was an outstanding night for Sweden, Myhrer’s teammate Mattias Hargin grabbed third place with two solid runs, finishing 0.60 off Grange’s two-run total of 1:46.54. Four Swedes finished among the top seven places.
"We've been working hard the last couple of years and think its paying off a little bit," said Myhrer about his teammates, "We see that we can beat the best and we're a very good slalom team, maybe the world's best."
Swedes Axel Baeck finished sixth, while Jens Byggmark was seventh.
"We're a really strong team and we've been pushing each other really hard in training, so hopefully more results will come for the Swedes," said Hargin.
It was a difficult second run for the home team much to the dismay of the enormous crowd hoping for a fifth consecutive Austrian victory in Schladming. One-by-one, the Austrians faltered.
Eighth after the first run, Marcel Hirscher was skiing well before straddling the second to last gate. Seventh after run number one, Manfred Pranger made a few costly mistakes and eventually finished a disappointing twelfth. Fifth after the first run, two-time defending champion Reinfried Herbst lost his left edge and skied out near the top of the course.
Four-time Schladming slalom champion, Benjamin Raich was the top Austrian finishing ninth, 1.30 seconds behind Grange.
One of the highlights of the night was when young U.S. racer, Nolan Kasper - who was 29th after the first run, and moved up to finish 13th overall - completed his run and then caught an American football thrown to him just seconds after he crossed the line. Kasper, who had the second fastest time of the second run, gave a "Heisman Trophy" impersonation and then proceeded to spike the ball into the snow.
Third after the first run, Ivica Kostelic lost his rhythm in the second run, but still finished fifth and increased his overall World Cup lead to 432 points ahead of Switzerland’s Silvan Zurbriggen. The 31-year-old Croatian – who has won two slaloms this January - also leads the slalom points standings 478-382 over Grange.
After competing in five slaloms in January, the technical specialists won’t race again in the discipline until the final day of the Audi FIS World Championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, on February 20.
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