Aerni turns tables on Hirscher to win combined at ski worlds
ST. MORITZ, Switzerland (AP) — In a total turnaround, Luca Aerni won the combined event at the world ski championships on Monday after being 30th fastest in downhill.
The Swiss skier was first to use the slalom course and took advantage of the clean surface to finish 0.01 seconds ahead of defending champion Marcel Hirscher of Austria.
“I didn’t expect this this morning,” said Aerni, who has had five winless seasons of World Cup racing. “Of course, if I start 31 (in slalom) I have no chance.”
Hirscher, the best slalom skier in the lineup who started two racers after Aerni in bright sunshine, looked stunned after seeing his time at the finish area.
Two years ago at the worlds in Colorado, Hirscher won when he too was 30th in downhill but enjoyed first go at a fast-softening slalom course.
“This is maybe a good decision to start first,” Hirscher said. “I exactly knew the conditions would play into our hands.”
The home Swiss team also took bronze. Mauro Caviezel was 0.06 behind his teammate, and all four Swiss racers placed in the top seven.
In a race clearly weighted toward early starters in the slalom, medals went to the skiers who clocked the three fastest times in the second leg as the soft surface quickly got worse.
“This slope is a joke. They didn’t prepare the slalom slope,” Alexis Pinturault of France, a pre-race favorite who raced slalom before Caviezel yet finished 10th, told Eurosport.
Hirscher chose to cite the “fascinating” combination of strong sunshine and altitude in St. Moritz, where the men start slalom at 2,220 meters (7,280 feet).
“We’re on a south (facing) hill,” the top-ranked skier said. “From 7 (a.m.) to 5 o’clock (p.m.) this is pure sunshine on the hill and it is not easy.”
Still, with several more days of sunshine forecast, organizers will lay down a new base layer of snow ahead of giant slalom and slalom races. On Thursday, Mikaela Shiffrin of the United States is a contender in the women’s giant slalom.
“We will redo the whole track trying to make it very even and hard,” men’s race director Markus Waldner told team coaches.
Aerni gave Switzerland its third title from six races, including Beat Feuz winning the marquee downhill on Sunday.
Swiss men have gone 2-for-3 here after winning only one of 27 World Cups this season. That lone victory came in combined, yet it was a fluke success at snowy Wengen by Niels Hintermann and he was not selected on Monday.
Aerni has a career-best World Cup finish of fifth, and a seventh is his season-best result.
Switzerland has a track record of surprise winners in combined. The 2014 Olympic champion was Sandro Viletta, who is not competing in St. Moritz.
First-run leader Romed Baumann of Austria had a 2.61 gap over Aerni in downhill, but he dropped out of the top 10, more than a second behind.
The slalom began at 1 p.m. (1200 GMT) on a clear and cold day, and the early starters carved ruts into the snow through gates set by a Swiss team coach.
Downhill specialist Kjetil Jansrud of Norway was tied for sixth in the morning, but did not race the slalom. Jansrud, who took silvers in super-G last Wednesday and combined at the 2015 worlds, has been feeling the effects of a cold.
The best-placed downhill racers were Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway and Dominik Paris of Italy in a tie for fourth. They trailed 0.40 seconds behind Aerni, who had his day in the sun.