WHISTLER (Reuters) - Aksel Lund Svindal fueled a debate on national team coaches setting the courses at Olympic Alpine skiing races after skiing out of the slalom of the men’s super combined on Sunday.
The slalom course had been set by Croatia coach Ante Kostelic and might have helped his son Ivica, who was in ninth position after the downhill run, clinch a silver medal.
Norway’s newly-crowned super-G champion, who was leading after the downhill section, mentioned a “Kostelic gate” to describe the spot in the middle section of the slalom course that ruined his hopes.
The question of course setters was also raised on Saturday, when Austria’s Andrea Fischbacher won the women’s super-G. The course had been set by Austrian coach Juergen Kriechbaum, who said afterwards he had tried to favor one of the Austrians.
But what may seem controversial to Alpine skiing outsiders is a routine practice used at World Cup races and major events such as world championships and Olympics.
A national team coach is designated in advance to set the course, which means he decides where to put the gates. And while coaches might try to favor competitors from their team, it is commonly accepted that the best skiers can win on any course.
“It was in a way,” Kostelic said when asked whether the fact that his father had set the slalom course was an advantage.
“I must say that we trained some of these combinations that my dad set today but I don’t think it was a big advantage because nobody really had a problem there, well at least most of the guys,” he added.
Swiss Silvan Zurbriggen, the bronze medalist, was also asked about the course-setting issue and refused to stir any controversy: “Sometimes it’s an advantage (to have your coach setting the course) and sometimes it’s not,” he said.
“Maybe it was a bit of an advantage today but Ivica is a great skier who can be fast on any course. I don’t think that’s what made the difference.”
What Ante Kostelic did do, his son said, was set a course that would favor the slalom specialists at the expense of the downhillers.
“The advantage was there for all the slalom racers because the slalom run was quite a demanding one and that was a good chance to make up some time that we had lost in the downhill,” he said.
Aimed at all-round skiers, the super combined, held over one day, features a downhill and a slalom run, with the times added to determine the winner.
It has been generalized over the last couple of years, replacing a traditional combined event that was staged over two days and featured two slalom runs.
Kostelic had said previously that he preferred the old formula better and felt the new one favored speed specialists at the expense of technical skiers like him.
Asked if his silver medal had changed his views about the format, he said: “No, I didn’t change my mind. I still think that slalom is crippled.
“Today again we had the whole downhill, almost two-minutes long, and one half of a slalom. The only luck today was that we had a more difficult course setting than we usually do, which is an advantage for slalom skiers.”
Editing by Frank Pingue