The Bansko GS podium:
Hirscher and young
of them in slalom. This puts him among
a very select group of champions. Among
male ski racers, only Alberto Tomba, Marc
Girardelli and Ingemar Stenmark ever won
more slaloms in a season.
More on the slalom later. The Bansko GS,
held on a tricky side-hill slope called Ba-
neriza, was the first in the discipline since
early January and loomed large in terms
of the secondary race for the crystal globe
indicative of GS supremacy. Ted Ligety
has owned that particular globe for three
of the last four seasons and had held the
lead this season since winning the opener
at Soelden in October.
But his lead was tenuous and this Hirscher,
well he just hadn’t gone away. The two
had split the wins at Beaver Creek and
finished fourth (Ligety) and fifth (Hirscher)
at Alta Badia, where soft course condi-
tions left a very chewed-up course for the
first-run leaders in the second run. Then,
at Adelboden, a wet snowfall made an al-
ways difficult track even trickier to stand
out on. The top four finishers were within
0.14 of a second. Hirscher, in first, got 100
points. Ligety, in fourth, got half that.
And that was the entire GS season before
Bansko. With four races remaining in the
2012 season coming at nearly a weekly
clip until finals, it was strategically impor-
tant to make a mark.
On Feb. 18, Ligety won the first run as he
had at Alta Badia, but his margin of less
than two-tenths was a mirage, for Hirscher
had nearly crashed out just before the bot-
tom, dazzled even himself with the recov-
ery and finished second. The showdown
But the stage wasn’t quite set.
The big excitement on the day came from
a 20-year-old who had arrived at 2 a.m.
direct from placing second in a German
Europa Cup and had made the cut in 26th
place for the second run. Faced with a
clean, nearly untouched course and pos-
sessing a “just-glad-to-be-here” attitude,
Marcel Mathis — yes, another Austrian
— went for broke.
The guy is fast. The elite of the World Cup
had recognized such during the Decem-
ber V Pay Alpine Rockfest event in Italy.
They may not have been prepared, how-
ever, for just how fast he could be. Few
were particularly surprised when Mathis
took the lead. But the longer he held it
and the wider his grin got, the larger the
And it had plenty of time for growth. Mathis
held the lead through 19 skiers, all of them
losing whatever their first-run advantage
had been by the first interval timer, about
23 seconds into the course.
Massimiliano Blardone, the winner at Alta
Badia, finally bettered the two-run time, but
by less than a tenth. The four men left after
Blardone had big starting advantages, but
still could not beat Mathis’s unreasonably
good time to the first interval, many hav-
ing additional problems pressing to win on
a demanding race hill.
Benjamin Raich skied out, and Philipp
Schoerghofer never mounted a chal-
lenge. Thomas Fanara aggressively at-