ROSA KHUTOR, Russia, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Austria’s downhill champion Matthias Mayer has little time for the super combined, the oldest Olympic skiing event, because he says it gives slalom specialists too great an advantage.
“If there are five slalom racers in the competition, they sort out the medals among themselves. Of course if one of them makes a mistake, then a space comes free in the front, but otherwise it’s really difficult,” Mayer said.
The event consists of a downhill race and a slalom, both of which take place on Friday. In the past, it also included a giant slalom.
The format was changed at the Vancouver Games to include only one slalom run - rather than two - in an attempt to reduce the benefit enjoyed by slalom specialists.
“It may be great for small nations because they get to start among the top 30 simply because the big nations don’t rate the super combined that highly. But it just isn’t an event that represents skiing to the outside world,” Mayer said.
With Sunday’s downhill gold medal tucked away in his jeans pocket, Mayer said he would take part in the combined to keep his andrenalin levels high, but his focus was on the super-G.
“With the women, there are downhillers who can win a slalom, like Lindsey Vonn, Tina Maze or Maria Hoefl-Riesch, but for us, that doesn’t happen, maybe because our slopes are tougher.”
When Alpine skiing first became Olympic at the 1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen Games, the only events were combined competitions - downhill and slalom for men and women. After 1948, combined was not part of the Olympic Games for 40 years.
It has not just changed in terms of the races included. It has also become a tighter event than on its first Olympic appearance when Turkey’s Resat Erces finished the downhill course in 22:44.4 minutes, 18 minutes slower than the leader.
In 1936, skiers were penalised six seconds for each gate missed during the slalom rather than being disqualified.
Skiers are discussing whether the combined event should stay Olympic and, if it does, whether it ought to be changed again - possibly to include a giant slalom, like in 1974 when Austrian great Franz Klammer won his combined world title.
”I think they have to change it. It could be all three events, like the way I won it in 1974 in St Moritz - slalom, giant slalom and downhill.
“The emphasis now is on the slalom skiers. Downhill skiers have no chance. That’s what I don’t like about it,” Klammer told Reuters.
“I‘m not really a fan of the super combined but if there is a gold medal to win, we want to get it.”
Mayer admits none of the current Austrian skiers are “slalom legends”, but he and Klammer also got support from defending combined champion Bode Miller.
A favourite to win the title again on Friday, Bode played down his chances after the downhill leg was shortened because of poor snow conditions. He says this will give slalomists an added advantage unless the slalom part of the race was also shortened.
”If this downhill was run from the start the way it was before it got warm... it would be a really good test, but right now the downhill is so easy. There is nothing challenging about it and there is no way to put anything on the slalom guys.
“It definitely should not be two slaloms. It’s already biased towards the slalom guys,” Miller said after Thursday’s final downhill training, in which he clocked the third fastest time.
Others still rate the event, like Czech Ondrej Bank who topped the timing sheets in Thursday’s training.
“When I was young, I was cheering just for people who were good in slalom and downhill. I think whoever wins the combined is one of the best skiers of all,” Bank said.
“The winner of the combined has always been the biggest person of the time.” (Additional reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Robert Woodward)