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Haugan wins first World Cup race as Feller celebrates slalom globe

Mar 17, 2024·Alpine Skiing
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Just as all of Austria was ready to explode for Manu Feller (AUT) in his own backyard, Timon Haugan (NOR) spoiled the party and then helped create one of his own after being mobbed by his euphoric teammates in the finish area.

Haugan won his first World Cup race in Sunday's slalom in Saalbach, finally delivering Norway's first slalom victory of a difficult campaign at the final opportunity.

And if the 27-year-old's maiden triumph hadn't quite sunk in yet in the seconds after he crossed the finish line, Atle Lie McGrath (NOR) and Alexander Steen Olsen (NOR) made sure of it by tackling him onto the snow and then chairing him off.

Haugan stands on top of the podium for the first time in his World Cup career
Haugan stands on top of the podium for the first time in his World Cup career

The Norwegian's heroics pushed slalom title winner Feller into second, 0.40 seconds behind, but didn't stop the Austrian from celebrating the first crystal globe of his career. Linus Strasser (GER) came third, just four hundredths behind Feller.

But the race belonged to Haugan. He led the field after a solid first run and, despite making a big mistake in the top section of the second run when he was pitched into the air, he recovered to hold his lead and extend it in the closeout.

"I had a plan to attack and never back off," he said. "If a mistake happened, just keep going."

All of Norway is glad that he did, as it saved the vaunted Norwegian men's slalom team from a winless year after they triumphed in five of the 10 races last season.

Lucas Braathen's shock pre-season retirement, Henrik Kristoffersen's equipment issues, McGrath's tight back-to-back losses to Feller in January and Steen Olsen's difficulty in putting two good runs together all contributed to a down year.

But the less-heralded Haugan has been a bright spot, quietly going about his business with three top-four finishes and a podium in slalom this season prior to his breakthrough victory on Sunday.

"That's something I've been thinking a lot about," he said regarding Norway's struggles this season. "I felt a little bit extra pressure maybe because this year I've had the best results in slalom on the team."

In delivering a victory for the team, he also moved up to third place in the season slalom standings behind Feller and Strasser.

"I had a goal this season to be around top five, top seven in slalom but to finish (top) three is much more than I expected," he admitted.

Haugan is held aloft by his teammates after his first World Cup victory
Haugan is held aloft by his teammates after his first World Cup victory

The man one place ahead of him in those standings, Strasser, registered his fifth podium in the last six slalom races to complete an impressive season.

"Ending up third in the last race is definitely a good season ending, and ending up in the overall second (place in the slalom standings) was also very nice," Strasser said.

When he crossed the line just behind Feller, Strasser pointed to his rival and smiled.

Linus Strasser (GER) points to Manu Feller (AUT) after the Austrian pipped him again on Sunday
Linus Strasser (GER) points to Manu Feller (AUT) after the Austrian pipped him again on Sunday

"It describes the season very well," Strasser said of the pair's battle on Sunday. "We fought the whole season against each other but in the end Manu is the deserved winner of the globe."

Indeed. Feller's second place capped off a dominant season in which he won four of the 10 races and was never out of the top five.

The Austrian, whose globe was already assured before the race, was fifth after the first leg, but rather than ski a victory lap in the second leg, he threw down the gauntlet to those ahead of him with a risky but scintillating last ski of the season.

It wasn't quite enough for victory on the day but the 31-year-old, who comes from nearby Fieberbrunn, experienced the joy of being presented with his crystal globe in the finish area in front of his adoring fans.

"I can't describe this in words, especially in front of a crowd like that at home," said Feller, who. "I want to give a special thanks to all my fans who were cheering for me in my bad times."

Feller celebrates his slalom crystal globe at home
Feller celebrates his slalom crystal globe at home

After holding up his globe and accepting the cheers from the crowd, Feller knelt down and traced a heartfelt tribute to a departed friend in the snow.

"Me and my friends, we lost a friend one-and-a-half years ago and I just wanted to share a little moment with him," Feller said shortly afterwards as he fought back tears.

After admitting that "so many emotions came up in the finish line," the enigmatic Austrian will now turn to more cheerful ones as he spends the evening with friends and family.

"I'm good at celebrating so why shouldn't I celebrate a moment like this? I will enjoy it," he said.

Click here for full results from Sunday's race.