PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - Alpine skiing was once a young man’s game won by racers from the nations that gave the sport its name but at the Pyeongchang Olympics the old order was overturned with the two specialist events won by Scandinavian men aged 35.
Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal claimed gold in the men’s downhill and Sweden’s Andre Myhrer won the slalom as experience came to the fore in the pressure cooker atmosphere of the Games.
Both men had tasted Olympic success in the past with Myhrer winning slalom bronze in Vancouver eight years ago where Svindal claimed gold in super-G, silver in downhill and bronze in giant slalom.
The fact that no man has successfully defended an Olympic title in downhill or slalom illustrates how the sport has produced many champions who were unable to last through several Olympic cycles.
In the past, a major knee injury could end a career but improvements in medical science have allowed skiers like Svindal to come through multiple surgeries and still compete at the very top.
“I think coming into an Olympics it is good to have routine,” Myhrer told reporters.
“This is my fourth Olympics. Being third in Vancouver, coming into this, it is good to have some experience.”
Svindal became the oldest man to win a gold medal in Alpine skiing but had to come through plenty of pain to achieve his goal.
“I realize now that age doesn’t matter,” he said.
“Since the last Games, I haven’t had a single season where I have finished without injury. This is the first time I have skied in February for four years – I have been in hospital every other year.”
Austrian Marcel Hirscher, who has won the World Cup overall title for the last six years, entered these Games without an Olympic gold and - at the age of 28 - he ended that anomaly.
Hirscher, stunningly smooth between the gates, danced his way to the giant slalom title and the combined gold although he failed to finish his first run in the slalom.
Once upon a time that would have been that but now it would not be a major surprise if he were to return in Beijing at the age of 32 and claim that missing gold in his favorite event.
Another Austrian, 27-year-old Matthias Mayer, won the super-G title to add to his downhill gold from Sochi, not a bad return for a man who has only four World Cup race wins to his name.
Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Ed Osmond