U.S. Alpine medal streak comes to end Korean takes big lead
By HOWARD FENDRICH
WHISTLER, British Columbia — The loud, rhythmic clanging of cowbells shaken by Swiss fans in the stands provided the soundtrack as the man they call "The Iceman," Carlo Janka, climbed to the top step of the podium after winning the Olympic giant slalom yesterday.
Janka leaned forward to take a little bow, and the pair of Norwegian medalists on either side — Kjetil Jansrud and Aksel Lund Svindal — reached over him for a high-five while cameras clicked away.
Most noteworthy was who was missing from the scene.
For the first time in seven Alpine skiing events at the Vancouver Games, no one representing the United States was on the podium. Bode Miller, vying to become the first man to claim four Alpine medals at a single Olympics, was long gone, having missed a gate in the opening leg of the two-run giant slalom.
"It's disappointing not to keep the streak going," said Ted Ligety of Park City, Utah, whose ninth-place finish was the best for the U.S. yesterday.
Tommy Ford of Bend, Ore., was 26th, and Jake Zamansky of Aspen, Colo., was 31st in their Olympic debuts.
Surprising as the early U.S. success was, perhaps the biggest stunner is Austria's problems. Its men haven't won any medal in a men's race, four years after earning eight.
"It's pretty cool that the Austrians haven't medaled," Ligety said, "especially being the ski powerhouse that they are."
They sure came close yesterday: Marcel Hirscher was fourth, Romed Baumann was fifth, and defending Olympic champion Benjamin Raich was sixth. All put together two-run times that came within a second of Janka's winning total of 2 minutes, 37.83 seconds.
Enough to earn standings points on the World Cup circuit. Hardly enough to earn praise back home during the Winter Games.
"It's a good result, but not for the Olympics," said Austria's Alpine director, Hans Pum, who playfully held a sheet of paper over his face to pretend to hide as reporters approached. "In Austria, skiing is important. So if we have no medals on the men's side, this is bad."
Austria left the 2006 Games with 14 Alpine medals, including six from the women. With three races left at Whistler — the women's giant slalom today, the women's slalom Friday, and the men's slalom Saturday — the total is two medals. Austria hasn't fared that poorly since leaving the 1976 Innsbruck Games with two medals, and there were only six races back then, unlike 10 today.
For comparison's sake, consider: The United States has eight medals. Norway has four, even though its team consists of a total of six skiers. Svindal, all by himself, now owns three Vancouver medals, just like Miller.
Switzerland owns two golds, thanks to Didier Defago in the downhill and Janka, who is known back home as "The Iceman" because he always seems unflappable — before a race, during a race, even after a victory.
Janka (it's pronounced YAHN-kuh) was fastest in the first run and third-fastest in the second. When the 23-year-old crossed the finish line and looked over at the leaderboard, he shook his ski poles, raised his arms overhead and grinned. Simple as that.
"He barely smiles when he wins," Ligety said. "He gives the one fist pump and looks stone-faced."
Janka's skiing style is similar.
He turns at the right moment. He holds a steady line. He avoids errors.
"Not to make any mistakes was the key for today," Janka said.