Swiss skier Carlo Janka has become the talk of the ski world after winning three consecutive alpine men's World Cup ski races in three days in different disciplines.
The 23-year-old, now a firm favourite for Olympic gold, wrapped up an astonishing weekend after victories in the super combined, downhill and giant slalom in Beaver Creek, Colorado.
World Cup overall leader Janka won Sunday’s giant slalom with a combined total time of 2 minutes, 29.44 seconds to defeat Austrian Benjamin Raich by 0.47 seconds. Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal was third in 2:30.37.
"A third victory in three days - I couldn't ask for more," said Janka. "I've shocked myself. What an incredible week. I don't know what to say except I feel marvellous.
"Everything was working perfectly with me this week in all the disciplines. It's truly an incredible moment when you can win them all."
Janka won the super-combined season opener on Friday and on Saturday followed by capturing the second downhill of the season.
He now leads the men's overall World Cup standings after his latest triumph in a remarkable start to the season. The Swiss all-rounder has 460 points, 105 more than his second-placed countryman, Didier Cuche, with Raich third on 281.
The Swiss racer is now the man to beat and an early favourite for an Olympic medal at the Winter Games in Vancouver next February.
Janka has been steadily building his reputation on the alpine circuit but this season his potential has turned into striking results with five podium finishes from six starts.
Yet achieving a hat-trick on the “White Circus” is extremely rare, especially in the same race location.
Janka’s name now stands alongside French ski legend Jean-Claude Killy, who won three separate events on three consecutive days in Franconia, United States, in 1967.
Svindal achieved a hat-trick in March 2007 in Switzerland and the Austrian star Hermann Maier won three in a row at Beaver Creek in 1999, but neither was on consecutive days. Italian legend Alberto Tomba also scored a hat-trick in three days in 1994 but in one giant slalom and two slaloms.
As Janka celebrated his third consecutive World Cup win in the finish area, Svindal, the reigning overall champion, raised a hand and bowed, then bowed again.
"He is a great skier; I don't think you can put your finger on one thing. He is not a warrior like Hermann Maier," said the Norwegian.
"When you watch him ski, he's very efficient, he does exactly what he needs to do to be fast, and he doesn't make many mistakes which for a young guy skiing fast is pretty rare."
His Swiss team-mate Didier Cuche was also full of praise: "I just wish I could go back ten years and have his God-given talent.”
Swiss newspapers went into raptures over his hat-trick.
“Carlo Janka has given Swiss alpine skiing three of the most fantastic days in its illustrious history,” wrote The Blick newspaper. “Killy, Tomba, Maier and Svindal – all four are ski legends. A 23-year-old from canton Gräubunden now stands on equal footing with these giants.”
Janka is nicknamed the “Iceman” for his cool, phlegmatic approach to the sport.
“He always celebrates his victories with a discrete lifting of the index finger,” wrote the Tribune de Genève newspaper. “He never edges too much or seems in difficulty.”
Switzerland’s head trainer, Martin Rufener, agreed: "He has everything under control the whole time. He never has to go to the limit. He makes everything look so easy.”
Janka, a native of Obersaxen, a village of 800 people in southeastern canton Gräubunden, joined the World Cup circuit in December 2005 at the age of 19.
Within two years he had his first top ten finish at Val d'Isere in the super combined, and in December last year, his first World Cup win at the same venue, where he dominated the giant slalom on the steep 'La Face' course.
But the breakthrough came at Wengen in January, where he won a super-combined race on the way to his first crystal globe in the event, which brings together downhill and slalom skills.
Janka went on to win the giant slalom title at the 2009 world championships in Val d'Isere in February, and also took a downhill bronze.
Despite his recent successes, few would have expected such an astonishing start to this season after he was laid low by a mysterious bug from May to August and missed much of off-season training.
The skier himself finds it hard to explain his superb form.
“I race and don’t analyse it too much. There’s not a lot more to say,” he said enigmatically.
Simon Bradley with agencies, swissinfo.ch
Men's World Cup Giant Slalom Results
1. Carlo Janka, Switzerland, 2 minutes, 29.44 seconds
2. Benjamin Raich, Austria, 2:29.91 (1:15.43-1:14.48)
3. Aksel Lund Svindal, Norway, 2:30.37 (1:16.36-1:14.01)
7. Didier Cuche, Switzerland, 2:30.81 (1:16.55-1:14.26)
8. Didier Defago, Switzerland, 2:30.87 (1:15.95-1:14.92)
World Cup Giant Slalom Standings (After 2 races)
1. Carlo Janka, Switzerland, 160 points
2. Didier Cuche, Switzerland, 136
3. Ted Ligety, United States, 130
4. Benjamin Raich, Austria, 125
5. Kjetil Jansrud, Norway, 85
Overall World Cup Standings
(After 7 races)
1. Carlo Janka, Switzerland, 460 points
2. Didier Cuche, Switzerland, 355
3. Benjamin Raich, Austria, 281
4. Didier Defago, Switzerland, 185
5. Aksel Lund Svindal, Norway, 178