Grange storms back to win slalom in final event at worlds
AP Sports Writer
BEAVER CREEK — For the longest time, Jean-Baptiste Grange of France absolutely loved this course. Then, he wrecked his knee here.
Now his feelings have flip-flopped again. Funny how a win — a big win at that — can change perceptions.
Skiing into heavy snowfall, Grange won the slalom title Sunday at the world championships after first-run leader Marcel Hirscher of Austria straddled a gate in the deteriorating conditions.
Trailing by 0.88 seconds heading into the final run of the last race, Grange had no trouble with the low visibility and snow sticking to goggles as he finished in a combined time of 1 minute, 57.47 seconds. Fritz Dopfer of Germany was second, 0.35 seconds behind, and teammate Felix Neureuther earned bronze.
“It’s a wonderful gift for all of these four years — many injuries, bad bib numbers, no confidence sometimes,” Grange said. “You know, skiing is always hard. But it’s easier when you’re on the podium and when you win.”
Grange finished second in a super-combined race at Beaver Creek in 2007. But in 2009, he injured his right knee, which kept him out of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Didn’t like this course so much anymore.
Just about the time he was returning to his winning ways, taking the 2011 world slalom title in Germany, chronic back pain began to constantly plague him.
So much so that he was actually contemplating retirement as recently as three weeks ago.
“I was thinking it’s never going to be better,” Grange said. “We are competitors so we want to achieve our goals. That’s what I did today.”
In the process, he made friends with this hill again.
“I think I have a tough emotion in Beaver Creek — bad and very good,” Grange said.
Even with Hirscher going out, the Austrians easily won the medal race with nine, which was four more than the Americans.
After Dopfer took over the lead, a local choir group began practicing the German national anthem in a nearby building. In mid tune, though, they impressively switched to the French anthem as Grange took over the top spot with a nearly flawless run.
‘DIDN’T EXPECT THIS’
“I didn’t expect this, but it’s wonderful for me,” Grange said.
Especially the way it went down. Hirscher going out? It seemed so unlikely, given how steady he’s been.
The defending champion dropped time in the accumulating new snow. Then, with the finish line in sight, he went out. He was as shocked as anyone, lifting up his goggles and staring down the course in disbelief.
“Others had no problem with it,” Hirscher said of the conditions. “So it’s always your fault if you ski out.”
The 25-year-old Hirscher leaves Beaver Creek with gold in the Alpine combined and team event, along with a silver in the giant slalom.
“In general, it was a super good world championships for me,” Hirscher said. “Way more than we were expecting before worlds.”
American Ted Ligety wound up 21st, 3.84 seconds behind Grange, as he struggled with the snowy conditions.
“I’m not very psyched on it,” Ligety said of his final run. “Came down way out (of the lead) — pretty obvious I’m not going to be happy with that kind of performance.”
Still, he finished the championships with gold in the giant slalom and a bronze in Alpine combined.
Entering the race, Dopfer was dealing with back pain. So bad, he couldn’t even imagine competing, let alone earning a medal.
“It’s a victory just to stand here without any pain,” Dopfer said. “To have the silver medal, I cannot believe it at the moment.”
Neureuther felt the same way about the bronze. He thought for sure Hirscher would bump him from the podium.
After all, it happened in the giant slalom, when Neureuther fell to fourth.
“You want to win or want to beat the others normally, not when they go out,” Neureuther said. “But I’m very happy with a medal today.”
The last skier of the competition had no intentions of a medal. He just wanted to finish. Hubertus Von Hohenlohe, the 56-year-old German prince who skis for Mexico, was 58.09 seconds behind Grange.
“It was an honor to close these world championships,” Von Hohenlohe said.
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