Olympics: Veteran Matt relishes slalom win amid course criticism
Austria's Mario Matt reacts in the finish area during the Men's Alpine Skiing Slalom Run 2 at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center during the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 22, 2014 - by Olivier Morin
Matt, aged 34 years and 319 days, clocked a combined time of 1min 41.84sec, having never finished better than 34th position in previous Winter Games appearances.
"Everything has to fit together and I was lucky in this case. I thought that today I would just ski and just see what happens," said the two-time world slalom champion, in 2001 and 2007.
"I approached the course with that attitude and it worked out. It's the highlight of my career."
However, there was controversy in the closing alpine ski event with the irascible Croatian coach Ante Kostelic, father of ninth-placed Ivica, setting a tortuous course, having already come under fire for the testing slalom he set in the super-combined.
Kostelic senior is considered one of the most idiosyncratic of course setters whose slaloms rarely resemble those set by other coaches drawn by lot to complete the task. On a rapidly deteriorating and rutted course, it showed.
Sweden's Andre Myhrer was second fastest down the first run, but bombed out in the second along with 11 others in the top 30, a rate of attrition he put down to the setting of Kostelic, whom he dubbed an "idiot".
French medal hope Alexis Pinturault, who suffered a nasty fall, said the second leg was "not good for the image of skiing".
- 'Borderline unsportsmanlike' -
"I wanted to take risks and finished on my back," he said, his opinions mirrored by recently crowned Olympic giant slalom champion Ted Ligety, the American branding Kostelic's course set as "borderline unsportsmanlike".
"This is the Olympics, you're trying to showcase our sport to the rest of the world and I don't think this does us any favours, especially when you have 12 guys in the top 30 go out. That's not an ideal setting."
But Matt and teammate Marcel Hirscher, who won silver at 0.28sec, were, perhaps understandably, nonplussed by the overt criticism of the second run.
"During the inspection we ran out of time and didn't have time to properly look at the last third. It was extremely difficult, with so many people failing to finish," acknowledged Matt.
"I watched a lot of guys go out so I just concentrated on my skiing and didn't risk too much.
"We're used to tricky course settings, but I have to say, it was a lot. I don't think I've seen anything like that in my career.... But that's the run, everybody has their chance."
Hirscher, the reigning world champion, added: "During the inspection, I could see that there was a big potential for mistakes and for some people it worked out and others it didn't.
"Thank God it was that selective, otherwise this would have never been possible.
"The second run was one of those where you have a 50-50 chance, either you ski out or you're fast. I had an unbelievable second run and jumped from ninth to second.
"I far prefer to be challenged. It's a matter of taste," he said, adding that criticism was "unfair because you can walk the course beforehand".
Ivica Kostelic also leapt to the defence of his father, saying: "In the Olympic Games we are looking for a challenge because in the Olympic Games we are looking for a spectacle.
"There are always many critics because there are few of them that are good. The winners that are here are not here accidentally. The guys on the podium deserve to be there."
Norwegian teenager Henrik Kristoffersen claimed bronze at 0.83sec to mark his card as one to watch in the years to come.
"I feel pretty good right now," the 19-year-old said. "It was the goal to be here at the Olympics and, hopefully, I have few more to go. This is unbelievable."