Kostelic gets back at Beaver Creek with slalom victory

08 December 2011 18:00

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. – There was no question that Ivica Kostelic made the cleanest, knife-like turns in the first slalom of the World Cup season at Beaver Creek on Thursday and the Croatian reminded everyone why he is the 2011 overall World Cup and slalom champion.

Kostelic had by far his best race ever at Beaver Creek – where he has had a rather rough history – to win with a combined time of 1 minute, 50.20 seconds. Notching his first World Cup podium, Italian Cristian Deville landed in second, just 0.14 seconds behind Kostelic and Sunday’s Beaver Creek giant slalom winner (second place on Tuesday) Marcel Hirscher was on his third podium of the week in third, 0.48 seconds back.

“I really wanted to win this race,” Kostelic said. “Because I had a history with this course.”

The boxing match between Kostelic and Beaver Creek began at the world championships in 1999, when the Birds of Prey downhill course dealt its first blow on the fresh-faced Croatian. He crashed and was taken off the hill in a sled with torn knee ligaments that led to the first of three surgeries directly related to Beaver Creek.

“I had three surgeries resulting from crashing on this course,” he said. “Two years ago, I hurt my back here. It was like a series of misfortunes on this course. It sounds maybe a little over the top, but I was really dreaming of a day when I would beat this course and finally say, ‘now we’re even.’ I went out of this finish a couple of times with the ski patrol in the sled, so this time I won … it felt good. Now we’re even.”

After winning last season’s overall World Cup by a landslide, securing the title weeks before the season finished, Kostelic said he hasn’t been holding back in the other races at Beaver Creek this week (though his top result was 18th in the second GS), but had a feeling that Thursday was the day to turn things around.

“Today after the first run, going into the second run, I had a feeling like today was the day,” he said. “Today was the moment for settling some old issues with this course. I was able to concentrate really well. I said to myself, ‘just ski instinctively.’ That’s what I did. I tried to push hard because I wanted to win.”

Kostelic’s best previous result this season was fifth in the Soelden GS. He had another knee surgery (the ninth of his ski career) last spring and had to miss about a quarter of his usual training period. He said however that his knee feels good now and perhaps it’s time to start another surge of domination.

“I can tell l you I can ski faster than this,” he said.

Deville, a slalom specialist who had landed a couple of fourth places in his long racing career, sustained a foot injury training in the pre-season, but made the trip to Colorado specifically for Thursday’s race, the first of his season.

“It was better to come here than Levi or Val d’Isere,” the 30-year-old Italian said. “It’s a surprise for me here. The snow, we trained only in Italy on another snow. Here it’s different. Today maybe I had more fortune than last season. I ski like last season but I was never on the podium. Just push hard and go fast. It’s difficult because if you push too hard you have many mistakes. So I tried to not make mistakes and it was a great race. I can say only that I’m very, very happy.”

Hirscher has one World Cup slalom victory to his name (Val d’Isere 2010) and six other podiums in the discipline. The course at Beaver Creek – one of the longest on the World Cup slalom circuit – presented new challenges. While the course sets were on too technical (first run set by Italy, the second by Canada), the steep-flat-steep-flat pattern of the course made for little breathing room.

“I never raced a slalom race on U.S. snow – only Nor-Am races – that was especially difficult for me,” he said. “I think if the hill is not that heavy or steep, then it’s difficult for everyone because if you make one little mistake it costs you so much time. If it’s really steep and hard to ski, you can make five or six mistakes and it doesn’t matter. Here it’s hard to ski that smooth and clean.”

Considering this, Hirscher is still in disbelief that he is leaving Beaver Creek – a hill he used to hate – with one win and two podiums.

“At the moment I can’t believe it,” he said. “I keep smiling because three years ago, me and Beaver Creek had not a good relationship.”

A few other athletes established new, happy relationships with Beaver Creek on Thursday. Young American racer Nolan Kasper, who landed his first World Cup podium in Kranjska Gora last season, was in the hospital two days ago with a virus but narrowly missed the podium Thursday, finishing fourth, 0.70 seconds back. Slalom specialist Mitja Valencic of Slovenia also notched his second best career Cup result in fifth, 0.85 seconds back and Sweden’s Andre Myhrer was sixth, 0.86 seconds out. Wearing bib No. 39, Italian Patrick Thaler was seventh, Manfred Moelgg eighth, Manfred Pranger ninth and Felix Neureuther 10th.

A few top contenders had trouble getting on their inside ski coming into the Golden Eagle pitch. The first of the 13 athletes to ski off-course in the first run was 2011 world slalom champion Jean-Baptiste Grange, then came Austrian Reinfried Herbst and wearing bib No. 36, American Will Brandenburg was leading throughout the first run, then missed a gate on the bottom pitch.

Go here for race action highlights.

Go here for video interviews with Kostelic, Deville and Hirscher.

Go here for full race results.

by Shauna Farnell