The fans in Zagreb know they have little control over the outcome; it’s part of the culture.
The weather, for instance, was warm, and the steep Red Descent had no chance to withstand the
sharp edges and intense power of World Cup slalom racers. In the first run it was bib Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4
and 6 that sat, just as they had started, on the lead (fifth starter Jean-Baptiste Grange was a DNF).
The course chewed up quickly.
That meant, of course, that the slowest skiers of the first run had the only good conditions of the second. Alexis Pinturault, one of two skiers tied for 30 after the first, excelled in the second run, posting a
two-run time that held for nine skiers. His French teammate Steve Missillier, 21st after the first, would
post the fastest second-run time. But the guys who were seeded early and finished atop the run-one
leader board are the best in the business, and it was them the crowd of Croates was waiting for. It
was they who would be most deserving of applause. And their guy, Kostelic, was right in the thick of
it wearing bib No. 3.
The second run was set dramatically with big round turns funneling into a flush down the final face.
Bib No. 6, Cristian Deville, was set to charge. But he nearly straddled the very first gate and it cost him
dearly. Though he would ski gracefully through the lower portion of the course — where the crowd had
the best view — and take the lead, he had left room to be overtaken.
The decibel level climbed some for bib No. 4 as German Felix Neureuther put forth a courageous
and no-holds-barred second run. The ruts and cuts tossed him off balance repeatedly, but he stayed
focused and recovered after each bobble to push Deville out of the lead.
Bib No. 3 heard the roars of support. The anticipation was at the vanishing point. Kostelic kicked out
of the start. At 32 and with 13 World Cup slalom wins to his credit, Kostelic knew what was required.
His skiing was fluid, seemingly error-free. As the sound reached its crescendo he crossed the finish
and the digits next to his name flashed red, not the green indicating a leading time. The fans applauded his effort.
“After crossing the finish line I had mixed feelings, because I wanted to win,” Kostelic said later.
“This is a very tough race for me. Every year it is the same story; lots of distractions. ... It is not easy
to come to such a stressful race and yet in four out of five performances I climbed the podium. It’s a
Kostelic held onto a podium placing in part because bib No. 2, Andre Myhrer, last season’s Zagreb
winner, had a huge mistake that launched him into soft snow outside the ruts. He was lucky to recover
from the error on the top third of the track but it kept him from having any chance of winning. He would
finish fifth, assuring Kostelic that fourth home field podium.
Hirscher took considerable risk on a course that invited it. On the final pitch a brilliant recovery
through the flush edged him to a narrow 0.29 of a second win over Neureuther. And he received a
“I somehow never managed to ski that good in Zagreb and so I didn’t expect I could be the one to win
Marcel Hirscher took risk on a
course that invited it.
Ferdinand Hirscher congratulates
his son in the finish area.