Neureuther leads German 1-2 finish at WCup slalom
KRANJSKA GORA, Slovenia (AP) Felix Neureuther overcame a pre-Olympic car crash to win a World Cup slalom on Sunday, giving himself pole position in the fight for the season’s discipline title.
Neureuther beat Fritz Dopfer for a German 1-2 finish, and overtook Marcel Hirscher on top of the slalom standings by five points with one race remaining.
On his way to Munich airport for his flight to Sochi on Feb. 14, Neureuther suffered whiplash as he lost control of his car on an icy road and hit the barrier.
”I was in the best shape of my life when the car accident happened,” Neureuther said. ”The whole body was hurting. I couldn’t ski at my top level at the Olympics. I was very disappointed. That was the most difficult time of my life.”
Starting as a medal contender, Neureuther came eighth in the GS and failed to finish his second run of the slalom at the Olympics.
”The last couple of weeks have been brutal,” the German said. ”But I kept on fighting and today is the reward for that. I came back and I am very proud of that.”
Neureuther finished in a two-run combined time of 1 minute, 45.50 seconds to lead Dopfer by 0.59. Norwegian teenager Henrik Kristoffersen took third, 0.79 back.
Olympic champion Mario Matt of Austria, who led after the first run, straddled a gate near the end of his final run and failed to finish.
Hirscher came 0.95 behind Neureuther in fifth. The Austrian has 465 slalom points, just five behind Neureuther on 470. Kristoffersen is third on 430.
”It looks pretty good,” Neureuther said. ”Henrik and Marcel are very close. It’s going to be exciting. We will all ski absolutely to our limits.”
Neureuther said that winning the slalom globe would not make up for missing out on an Olympic medal.
”Olympics are every four years,” he said. ”An Olympic medal is something different, winning a globe means you’re the best skier during the whole year.”
It was Neureuther’s seventh career slalom win and he now shares the German record for most World Cup wins in the discipline with Armin Bittner.
Two-time defending champion Hirscher went top of the overall standings with 1,050 points, edging Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal by just four points and setting up a tense conclusion to the season at next week’s World Cup finals in Lenzerheide, Switzerland.
”Something has to change over the next few days,” said Hirscher, who was hoping for a larger buffer. ”I have to be able to compete at the same level as Aksel again, otherwise I am lost. (Fifth) is better than skiing out but this result is not satisfying.”
Hirscher admitted he was feeling the pressure. He can become only the fourth skier, and the first Austrian, to win the overall title three years in a row.
”I am just not racing as easily as I usually do,” Hirscher said. ”This was all I could do, more was impossible. I have to admit that. What the other three showed on the hill was different class. How Felix took the steep part, that was the best slalom skiing we’ve seen all season.”
Dopfer reached his fourth career World Cup podium but was still waiting for his first win.
Like teammate Neureuther, Dopfer bounced back from a disappointing Olympics, where he came fourth in the slalom.
”This is my medal,” said Dopfer. ”My last few slaloms have been really good and this is my reward.”
Kristoffersen continued his great run that started in January and saw him win his first World Cup race, an Olympic bronze medal, and two junior world titles. And Saturday, he earned his first career podium in GS.
”My main goal is for sure to get a better skier,” said the 19-year-old Norwegian, who was giving himself an outside chance to grab the slalom title next week. ”For sure, now it’s that close you want more.”
Ted Ligety, who won a record sixth giant slalom on the same course Saturday, was 2.04 back in 16th. Former overall champion Ivica Kostelic of Croatia, who won here last year, finished 2.98 off the lead in 27th.
Sunday’s race was the last event before the World Cup finals start in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, on Wednesday.