The men’s combined event at the 2011 World Championships — the combined was the only event at both Garmisch and Partenkirchen — was an exquisite test of overall racing prowess. The downhill was the full “real deal,” one that dozens of very good ski racers had pulled out of, and the slalom was on a slick, steep hill. The start list was 41 compared with the 100 who would start the men’s slalom. By the time it was over there were just 28 men standing. The downhill had been nasty enough, in fact, that it had eliminated the best combined skier on the planet before the race was even held. Ivica Kostelic, the winner of all three World Cup combineds held this season, had elected not to punish his oft-injured body on the treacherous bumpy downhill piste at Garmisch. He wasn’t even in town, instead looking to rest up for a final push toward the World Cup title. Kostelic wasn’t the only medal contender missing in the combined mix. Swiss Carlo Janka, the defending World Cup overall champion, also skipped the event, and by the end of the downhill eg Romed Baumann was gone, too. That meant that the skiers with five of the nine World Cup combined podiums this season would not be in the medal hunt. Svindal, however, won two of those other four spots, and with five World Championship med- als hanging in his Norwegian home, he was the odds-on favorite to win. The men’s Championships combined favored the speed skiers for two very good reasons. First, the downhill was long and the slalom was short. Second, the slalom course was set by Italian coach Massimo Carca and his team — Christof Innerhofer, Peter Fill, Paolo Pangrazzi
and Dominik Paris — was longer on downhill skills than slalom. Carca set his course fast and
as straight as he could, no tricks, no delays and a minimum of flushes.
The Italians took advantage. But so did Svindal. The big Norwegian might have been favored
in the earlier super G, too, but, he said, “I counted five good turns in the 40 I made.” He said
he wanted a combined medal to salvage his season. “Kostelic is the [World Cup] overall leader
and I won’t be able to catch him.” With the speed races completed, Svindal felt the combined
was his last strong hope.
He took the downhill leg by a healthy 1.09-second margin and skied tactically in the slalom for
the huge 1.01-second margin, successfully defending the world championship combined title
in the process.
In a room at the Italian team hotel, Innerhofer was putting his medals (gold from the super G
and bronze from the downhill) on the nightstand between the beds where his roommate Fill
could see them. They served, said the bronze-medaling Fill, to motivate him.
Innerhofer was beyond needing motivation, or much of anything else. Having won the super
G on a treacherous, rough icy course and gaining a downhill medal on a soft course, he had
proven himself a multidimensional racer. He was the newfound stallion of Italy, making the celebrity rounds with joyful pleasure. He owned Garmisch.
Fill was struggling with a family crisis as his father was hospitalized with a pancreatic infection.
Though healing, Fill’s father has been near death on several occasions and is still in danger.
Aksel Lund Svindal was out to
redeem his season by winning
the combined gold.
Gold, silver and bronze: Christof
Innerhofer owned Garmisch.