Swiss Olympic skiers doubled down in Canada on Sunday with Michael Schmid taking gold in the ski cross and Silvan Zurbriggen winning bronze in the super combined.
With one week of the Games to go, the wins boost Switzerland’s medal count to seven, leaving the team within striking distance of the ten to 12 medals it hoped to bring home.
This year marked the debut of the ski cross event as an Olympic sport and Schmid’s victory at Cypress Mountain solidifies a Swiss tradition of tending to excel in new winter disciplines.
Sonny Schonbachler won the first Olympic ski acrobatics contest when it was introduced in 1994 at Lillehammer. Snowboarder Gian Simmen won the debut half pipe event in Nagano in 1998 and Tanja Frieden won the first Olympic snowboard cross in 2006 in Turin.
Schmid, a massive 193cm tall and 96kg bruin nicknamed Colossal, hails from Frutigen in canton Bern and came into the contest as the current leader in the the ski cross World Cup standings. He was a favourite to win and decidedly sailed into first place during the final round without so much as even touching his competitors.
As in snowboard cross, skier cross involves four racers tackling a course simultaneously. Heats often involve fierce competition and certain crashes as racers jockey for position coming into turns and flying off jumps.
Austrian Andreas Matt, who currently ranks second in the World Cup general standings, took silver. Norway’s Audun Groenvold placed third.
In the super combined at Whistler resort, Zurbriggen mounted an impressive comeback in the two-part race that tests skiers’ speed on a super-G piste and technical abilities with a slalom portion. The fastest combined time from the two runs wins.
American Bode Miller won the super combined and added a bit of gold to his silver and bronze medal collection from this year’s Games. Miller’s combined time was 2 minutes, 44.92 seconds, which was 0.4 seconds faster than Zurbriggen.
Croat Ivica Kostelic took second, 0.33 seconds behind Miller. Norwegian super-G gold medalist Aksel Lund Svindal won the first part of the race but missed a gate in the slalom and did not finish. Zurbriggen cheered with relief when Svindal blew it and assured the Swiss his place on the podium.
Switzerland’s Carlo Janka finished in fourth place overall, with a combined time 0.62 second behind Miller.
Downhill gold medalist Didier Défago, one of the oldest racers at 32, had dominated training runs and ended up fourth after the first section of the race. He was unable to complete the technical slalom run and skied wide on snow that grew softer in the sun with each passing racer.
It had been touch-and-go for Zurbriggen, skiing in his first Olympic event at the Vancouver Games. After the super G portion, the skier from canton Valais sat in sixth place at 0.73 seconds off the lead. He regained ground during the slalom for a combined time of 2 minutes, 45.25 seconds by posting one of the fastest slalom times.
Zurbriggen, 28, has a proven track record in the combined. He last won the event during a World Cup contest in January 2009 in Kitzbühel and snapped up second place behind Kostelic at another race in Austria shortly before the Games.
swissinfo.ch and agencies
At the Winter Olympics, the slalom and downhill portions of a combined event are run separately from the regular downhill and slalom events on shorter, and often less demanding, race courses.
Since 2005, ski racing's governing body, the FIS, has begun to run super combined events held all on one day. The first "super combi" was a World Cup race held on Jan. 14, 2005, in Wengen, Switzerland. Benjamin Raich of Austria won.
The first women's race in the this format was run six weeks later in San Sicario, Italy, and was won by Croatia's Janica Kostelić.