Italy's Giuliano Razzoli wins Olympic men's slalom
Giuliano Razzoli won the Olympic slalom Saturday and gave Italy its first Alpine gold medal of the Vancouver Games.
Razzoli was the first-leg leader and had a combined two-run time of 1 minute, 39.32 seconds to become the first Italian man to win an Alpine medal since his mentor, the flamboyant Alberto Tomba, took slalom silver at Lillehammer in 1994. Tomba won the slalom at Calgary in 1988, and was the last Italian man to win a gold, in the giant slalom at Albertville in 1992.
Tomba watched near the finish area and jumped up and down with both arms raised in triumph when his 25-year-old protege crossed the line.
``Now I can understand how it is for the parents,'' Tomba said, after Razzoli came over to embrace him. ``It's more emotional. I think it's better to be racing.''
Razzoli said he knew how long Italy had waited for another gold medal.
``It's incredible,'' Razzolli said. ``It's a long time. I'm happy for my country.''
Ivica Kostelic of Croatia was 0.16 behind Razzoli for his second silver medal of these Olympics, after being runner-up to Bode Miller in super-combined last Sunday.
Andre Myhrer of Sweden got bronze, 0.44 behind, for the first Alpine medal for Sweden's men in 22 years.
Defending champion Benjamin Raich was fourth, 0.05 off the podium, leaving Austria's powerful men's team without a medal just four years after they won eight at Turin. They best they could do in Vancouver was three fourth-place finishes.
Miller skied out just eight seconds and less than 50 meters into his first run, ending his chance to become the first man to win four Alpine medals in the same Olympics.
Razzoli raised both arms in triumph on crossing the finish line.
``I've been feeling this medal for a long time, working a lot, training a lot, for this day,'' he said. ``Now I'm here with a gold medal.''
Tomba, who was at the mountain working for Italian television, sent his usual text message an hour before the race.
Later, as Razzoli passed through the interview area after taking nearly a half-second lead in the first run, Tomba playfully chastised him.
``I told you to take it easy the first run and attack the second,'' Tomba said.
``I know, I know, but I couldn't stop myself,'' Razzoli said.
Razzoli comes from the same Emilia Romagna region of Italy as Tomba, and was making his Olympics debut, though he skied as a forerunner testing the slalom course at the 2006 Turin Games.
He showed his form last month winning his first World Cup race in Zagreb, Croatia - and was then hoisted onto Tomba's shoulders in celebration.
Kostelic was fourth-fastest in the morning but moved up to claim his third career Olympic silver. He also was runner-up behind Ted Ligety of the United States in traditional combined at the 2006 Turin Games.
Myhrer leaped on to the podium thanks to the best second-leg time - 0.46 faster than any rival - after being 10th in the morning.
He got Sweden's first men's Alpine medal since a bronze for Lars-Borje Eriksson in super-G at Calgary.
The 27-year-old Myhrer had a single career World Cup victory, at Beaver Creek, Colo., three seasons ago, but was second behind Kostelic at Wengen, Switzerland, last month.
Raich fell just short of claiming his fifth career Olympic medal, which would have made him the most decorated Austrian Alpine skier in games history. He is tied at four with Hermann Maier and Stephan Eberharter, both now retired.
Miller was trying to become the first man to win four Alpine medals in the same Olympics but straddled the fifth gate less than 50 meters into his run. Miller stood by the side of the course looking mystified by his mistake.
``I just hooked a tip and it's obviously disappointing when you're fired up and you're skiing well and everything's there,'' said Miller, who got gold in the super-combined, silver in the super-G and bronze in downhill.
Miller was among 48 of 102 starters who failed to complete the morning leg, raced in some of the toughest conditions of an Olympic Alpine program where weather and course surfaces were a constant factor.
Wet snow, rain and a soupy fog affected visibility and softened the Dave Murray course which was staging a sixth race, following the women's slalom with 87 starters Friday.
Course workers spread fertilizer and thousands of gallons of water on the track to bind and harden the slushy surface. Slalom racers prefer an icy crust which allows them to carve tight turns on their sharp-edged skis.
World champion Manfred Pranger of Austria and Ted Ligety of the U.S. were among several racers tricked by a difficult compression midway down the first run.
Pranger was leading when he was launched into the air and landed on the base of his spine. He was unhurt.
Triple Olympic medalist Aksel Lund Svindal, who rarely skis slalom and watched on television at home in Norway, posted a message on his Twitter page describing the course as ``crazy.''
Canada's Julien Cousineau put down the second-fastest second run time, to jump from 19th to eighth place, trailing Razzoli by 1.34.
The host nation finished the 10-event Alpine program without a medal.
France also was shut out, after its best medal hope, Julien Lizeroux, finished ninth of the 48 finishers Saturday.
Among those finishing their runs was Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong, wearing No. 102.
The self-styled Snow Leopard made his Olympic debut at 35 with two cleans trips down in a combined 2 minutes, 22.60 seconds.
Nkrumah-Acheampong trailed Razzoli by 43.28 seconds, but he wasn't last. He was almost a half-minute faster than Erjon Tola of Albania.