Kostelic Wins Super Combined leading 1-2 Croatian Finish
CHAMONIX, FRANCE – “This is probably the greatest day of Croatian skiing and one of the greatest days in Croatian sport,” said Ivica Kostelic following Sunday’s super combined victory, where he was joined on the podium by his countryman Natko Zrncic-Dim, who finished second.
In what has been a beyond astounding January, Kostelic charged full gas in the afternoon slalom to catapult himself from 24th after the morning downhill to win his seventh race of the month. The 31-year-old Croatian also made it three-for-three in combined races this season, locking up the title with just two remaining.
“Today wasn’t that easy, it’s not that obvious that I could be winning after being two-and-a-half seconds out after downhill,” said Kostelic. “Especially here, because the slalom wasn’t that challenging. After the downhill, I said ‘Ok, winning will be very hard, but it’s not impossible. Usually, I keep two or three percent in reserve, but today I put everything I had into this run.”
The dominant Croatian’s slalom time was 54.65, 0.36 seconds faster than Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud, who finished fourth overall on the day, after being down in 27th following the downhill.
Kostelic’s 24-year-old teammate Zrncic-Dim achieved the best World Cup result of his six-year career. Also from Zagreb, the young Croatian was ahead of his older teammate early in his run, but ultimately finished second, 0.51 seconds behind Kostelic’s winning combined time of 2:57.12. It marked the first time in Croatian skiing history that athletes finished first and second in a World Cup race.
“Especially to be there with Ivica, it means a lot and for me it’s a real honor,” said Zrncic-Dim in the finish area following the Croatian 1-2 finish. “I’m really happy that I moved from third place to second place (following the morning downhill). It’s a big success for me after a really tough January, a lot of crashes and I’m really satisfied right now.”
“We’ve dreamed of singing the Croatian National Anthem together after a race and it happened today,” said the 31-year-old Kostelic.
Twice before - in Kitzbuehel and Val d'Isere - the two Croatians have shared a podium, but both times in the two-and-three positions.
"There was a little bit of pressure on me at the start," said Zrncic-Dim, who has reached a World Cup podium three times before, all in combined events. "I knew that Ivica was going well. I hoped to come in front of him, but when we finished first and second it was a big thing."
Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal, who had a solid lead over his main combined challengers after being second fastest in the morning downhill, appeared to have victory in his grasp, skiing smooth and steady in slalom before making a costly error on the lower section of the 71-gate, La Verte course.
"Coming out of the hairpin, it caught me by surprise how turny it was, then there was a little delay and I looked around because there were so many gates. It confused me a bit and I had to chuck them sideways," explained Svindal regarding the course set. "That pissed me off a little bit because I wanted to take down Ivica today."
The Norwegian Svindal settled for third, 0.53 seconds behind Kostelic. It was the 35th career podium for the 28-year-old Norwegian.
"I'm happy with third place, but I feel like today I had a good opportunity to win a race and you have to take advantage of opportunities," he said. "I kind of blew it a little today."
Leader of the morning downhill, Switzerland's Beat Feuz, skied well in slalom and ended tenth overall, 1.67 second behind Kostelic.
In addition to Kostelic and Zrncic-Dim, two other Croatians, Dalibor Samsal (24th) and Tim Siroki (28th) also earned World Cup points, awarded to the top 30 finishers.
"This is a good step for Croatian skiing and I hope kids seeing this will step up and train harder," continued Kostelic, who is in his 11th season on tour. "The important thing is that we make them believe that it is possible because 10 years ago, you could forget it. It was like a zombie in the space program. This is a great achievement in sports and I'm proud to be a piece of it."
Kostelic appears to be headed for his first career overall World Cup title. With 14 races remaining, the Croatian has a seemingly insurmountable 475-point lead over Switzerland’s Silvan Zurbriggen. Didier Cuche is third, 505 behind, while Svindal is fourth, 515 off the pace.
“It’s great,” said Kostelic. “But I’m not convinced that this battle is over.”
-By Brian Pinelli
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