The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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February 14, 2014

Viletta stuns favorites to win gold

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia —     For Sandro Viletta, it was a stunning Olympic gold.

    For Ivica Kostelic, it was the same old Olympic silver.

    Viletta took advantage of a blistering slalom run to beat the favored Kostelic in Friday's super-combined, a race held in spring-like conditions with snow turning to slush.

    The Swiss skier stood only 14th after the downhill portion but put down the second-fastest slalom run to finish in a two-run combined time of 2 minutes, 45.20 seconds — then waited as one skier after another failed to catch him.

    "I didn't expect to win," said Viletta, whose career has been slowed by back troubles. "I knew that I could ski fast. I like the snow and this was my chance."

    In fact, this was the only race Viletta entered in Sochi. He'll now head home with a gold medal around his neck.

    "In super-combined ... you never know what is possible," Viletta said. "I thought it could be possible to go on the podium, but you must have a perfect day."

    Kostelic came close, but the Croatian instead ended up becoming the first skier to win three silvers in a single Alpine skiing discipline, finishing 0.34 behind. Christof Innerhofer, the Italian who took silver in downhill, ended up 0.47 behind for bronze in an event he was worried he might not be able to enter due to his chronically bad back.

    When the race was over, Viletta was smiling from ear to ear, Kostelic was shaking his head and Innerhofer was celebrating again.

    The 28-year-old Viletta has won only one World Cup race in his career, a super-G in Beaver Creek, Colo., in December 2011. His best super-combined result came in Wengen, Switzerland, last month when he was fourth.

    While he hadn't gained much attention entering this race, Viletta finished fifth in the super-combi at last year's world championships, and he was sixth in the event at the 2009 worlds.

    About a month after his win in Colorado, Viletta crashed in another race, starting his back troubles.

    "It was hard times, especially the last two-to-three years," he said, adding that the pain has prevented him from training over the summer.

    Kostelic was also second in the slalom at the 2010 Vancouver Games and he became the first man with four Olympic silver medals overall in Alpine skiing.

    "I'm a 'Silver Surfer,'" Kostelic said. "Actually, it's funny, because way before this time, my gaming nickname was 'Silver Surfer,' so probably I made my own destiny. ... People on the podium have changed, and I stayed there."

    Kostelic's younger sister, Janica, won four golds and two silvers at the 2002 and 2006 Games. Since she retired in 2007, Janica has helped her brother in a coaching role.

    "This is the 10th Olympic medal in our family, and this fact makes me very proud," Kostelic said.

    Innerhofer said he never trains slalom and so he said he was thinking "there will be no chance" for a medal.

    "Unbelievable. Un-be-liev-a-ble!" said the demonstrative Italian, who jumped onto the podium with a backflip.

    The super-combined medalists were determined by adding the times together from one downhill run and one slalom leg.

    Downhill leader Kjetil Jansrud of Norway finished fourth.

    The temperature soared to 13 degrees Celsius (55 degrees Fahrenheit) shortly before the start of the slalom leg.

    Defending champion Bode Miller made a big mistake during his downhill run and finished sixth, while world champion Ted Ligety had a ragged slalom leg and placed 12th.

    Miller was only 12th in the downhill after swinging out wide and far off the racing line midway down the course. He had the seventh fastest slalom leg to move up six spots.

    "The tactics were there and the skiing was there but you can't make mistakes like I did today," Miller said.

    Ligety was 18th after the downhill and had only the eighth-fastest slalom.

    "The snow was a lot better than I thought it would be and the course-set was a lot easier than I thought it would be and I just skied conservatively," Ligety said. "To put it simply, I choked — for sure. That's disappointing."

    While both Americans struggled, they still have races to look forward to.

    Miller will be among the favorites for Sunday's super-G and Ligety is the outright favorite for Wednesday's giant slalom.

    Norwegian standout Aksel Lund Svindal finished in a tie for eighth with former overall World Cup winner Carlo Janka of Switzerland, and French contender Alexis Pinturault went out toward the end of his slalom leg — one of many racers who struggled with a difficult course set by Kostelic's father, Ante.

    In all, 11 racers did not finish their slalom legs, with several of them looking downright foolish as they lost control and tumbled down the mountain head over foot.

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