ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - Felix “Neck of the Nation” Neureuther finished eighth in Wednesday’s giant slalom but was happy to compete at all five days after crashing his car on the way to Sochi.
Despite an injury-plagued season, the 29-year old had been tipped as a medal contender in both technical events before the accident near Munich airport which left him with whiplash.
Whether he could race in the giant slalom, the weaker of his two disciplines, was uncertain up until Wednesday morning.
“It’s a massive miracle that I was able to start here today. It’s a massive load off my mind. Olympic Games are only every four years - not being able to start here would have been really bitter for me,” Neureuther told reporters.
“I took a big risk to start and it has paid off because I now know I can compete on Saturday. That just makes me happy, really happy.”
Neureuther hit the crash barrier on an icy road on the way to Munich airport on Friday, suffering whiplash, bruised ribs and pulled ligaments in his back. He arrived in Sochi late last week wearing a big scarf, his neck visibly stiff, his movement awkward.
“To be honest, I didn’t think two days ago that I would be able to start here today,” said the son of double Olympic champion Rosi Mittermaier and six-time slalom World Cup winner Christian Neureuther, who watched the race from the stands.
His accident has caused media frenzy in his native Germany and he has been dubbed “the Neck of the Nation”. Neureuther has joked he would likely have got less attention if he had won two Olympic gold medals.
Neureuther, yellow tape on his neck to limit his head movement, said he was feeling “very well” and was not on painkillers. He received physio between the two runs.
“Of course I wanted more, especially after the first leg went well. But then everything would have had to go well, including in the run-up to the race,” he said.
Neureuther completed the first leg in the eighth fastest time and was 11th fastest in the second run.
“I just need some training now. I’ve been lying around for the past five days,” he said, looking ahead to Saturday’s slalom, his last chance to win his first medal in three Games.
“The clocks reset to zero on Saturday and I’ll do what I do best: ski slalom fast. Then all is well.”
Neureuther crashed out of the slalom in Vancouver four years ago and came eighth in the giant slalom.
Reporting by Annika Breidthardt; editing by Robert Woodward