Kostelic on course for Olympic super-combi event
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — With two Olympic silver medals in the combined event, Ivica Kostelic is clearly a contender for gold on Friday.
And his main rivals, including defending champion Bode Miller, might think they are racing against the whole Kostelic family once the morning downhill run is done.
Kostelic’s father and coach, Ante, designed the afternoon slalom course and has a reputation for gate-setting that is quirky verging on notorious.
“As always, unrhythmic,” Ivica Kostelic said when asked to describe the course. “Yeah, it’s going to be interesting. It’s going to be hard.”
In fact, Miller’s victory at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics is more impressive given he was 0.04 seconds faster at slalom than Kostelic, a specialist in the discipline, through gates again set by the Croatian’s father.
Miller had been seventh-fastest in downhill and Kostelic was ninth. First-run leader Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway went out in slalom at what he later described wryly as “a typical Kostelic gate.”
What is the hallmark of Ante Kostelic’s courses that can cause skiers about 50 seconds of such anguish?
“He always do, like, really straight turns and then immediately some really big turns,” said Croatian skier Natko Zrncic-Dim, a medal prospect on Friday. “And that’s what’s the most problem by skiers, when you need to change (your tactics) from turn to turn.”
It’s pure luck of the draw that Kostelic Sr. has the course-set honor for a second straight Olympic super-combined.
A Feb. 2 lottery by the International Ski Federation after World Cup races in St. Moritz, Switzerland, chose which national teams set the gates for all Olympic races, except downhill.
“Nobody had a smile,” said Austria head coach Matthias Berthold, though smiling now about the selection. “He is thinking how to make the race interesting and put his philosophy into the course.”
The Kostelic design was revealed to other teams Thursday morning on the race hill, giving coaches a day to digest its challenges.
United States head coach Sasha Rearick believes the plan might not be taking out top downhillers like Miller, who could have a second in hand from the morning. Perhaps speedier slalom racers, like Alexis Pinturault of France, could find trouble.
“They’re trained to be able to go fast and generate speed on every turn, and on this course, you can’t,” said Rearick, who also has Ted Ligety in the medal mix.
Ligety is the 2013 world champion in super-combined and also edged Ivica Kostelic for gold at the 2006 Turin Olympics when combined comprised two slalom runs after the downhill.
“It is what it is,” Ligety said of Ante Kostelic’s style. “I think he mostly just sets on his own kind of whim.”
Still, there are limits. A Kostelic course was rejected as “unskiable” by FIS at a January 2013 World Cup slalom in Kitzbuehel, Austria. Kostelic refused to modify it, so Italian coaches prepared the gates instead.
Because Ivica Kostelic won the World Cup super-combined in Sochi two years ago, when Olympic courses were formally tested, he is strongly favored Friday.
He also has the Feb. 22 men’s slalom to look forward to, and Ante Kostelic is setting those second-run gates, too.
AP Sports Writers Andrew Dampf and Howard Fendrich contributed to this report.