JEONGSEON, South Korea (AP) Matthias Mayer came to the Pyeongchang Games as an Olympic champion, and he’ll leave as an Olympic champion.
Just not in the event he expected.
A sliding crash into a TV cameraman was the inelegant end of the Austrian’s charge for a medal in the opening combined event. It caused a hip injury that left him little hope of retaining the Olympic downhill title he won at the 2014 Sochi Games.
But on Friday, Mayer broke Norway’s 16-year grip on the men’s Olympic super-G title, winning an unexpected gold medal four years after unexpectedly winning the downhill.
”Unbelievable,” said Mayer, who had been a disappointing ninth one day earlier in the marquee speed race. ”I didn’t know if I would start the downhill. I had real pain in my hip.”
Victory was more impressive because he beat two racers high on confidence after medal-winning runs in Thursday’s downhill.
Mayer was 0.13 seconds faster than Beat Feuz of Switzerland, who upgraded to silver after his bronze in downhill. Feuz flipped places on the podium with Kjetil Jansrud, who added a bronze to his silver from a day earlier.
Jansrud, the defending champion in super-G, was 0.18 behind Mayer’s time of 1 minute, 24.44 seconds. He missed the chance to extend Norway’s winning run in men’s Olympic super-G – a four-race streak that began at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
Aksel Lund Svindal, the 2010 Olympic champion in super-G, placed fifth after taking Mayer’s downhill title on Friday.
Mayer’s toughness was perhaps the least surprising part of his performance. He broke two vertebrae in his back in a crash at a World Cup downhill in Val Gardena, Italy, in 2015. He underwent surgery and spent 11 days in a hospital and did not race again that season.
”I was always thinking about coming back and doing this again and trying my best,” Mayer said.
The first win of his comeback, in a super-G, was only 13 months later at the most feared hill in Alpine skiing – the Streif in Kitzbuehel, Austria.
Now Mayer has gone one better than his father in Olympic super-G. Helmut Mayer took silver when the event joined the Olympic program at the 1988 Calgary Games.
”I saw this Olympic silver medal this whole lifetime,” the 27-year-old Mayer said. ”It was in our living room. Since I’m a child I always saw this medal, so I’m happy to have my own now.”
Mayer became the first non-Norwegian to win the men’s super-G since Hermann Maier took gold at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. The Austrian great won that race three days after walking away unhurt from a spectacular cartwheeling crash in downhill.
Jansrud said he was ”not overly disappointed” that Norway’s super-G run ended on the day he got his fifth career Olympic medal.
”It’s cool to look back and think that you’ve done so many things, but this is the normal way of ski racing,” he said, adding that winning margins of hundredths of seconds ”have been on our side for so many Olympics, that’s quite extraordinary.”
The super-G, short for super-giant slalom, is a single run raced on a slightly shorter, twistier course than downhill and is more unpredictable. The skiers do not get to practice through the exact set of gates designed by a national team coach picked by lottery.
An Italian coach set the 1 2/5-mile (2.3-kilometer) course for Friday’s race, yet the team’s best finish was Dominik Paris in seventh.
Two contenders lost speed by striking the same gate with their right arms. Hannes Reichelt of Austria was knocked off balance, and Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway had his ski pole ripped out of his right hand.
Andrew Weibrecht could not make it three straight Olympics with a medal in super-G, having taken bronze in 2010 and silver four years ago. The often-injured American missed a gate after flying too far off a jump.
Ted Ligety, the 2013 world champion in super-G, also skied out. The American will now move to nearby Yongpyong to defend his giant slalom title on Sunday. Marcel Hirscher is favored in that event for a second gold after winning the combined.
For Mayer, his second Olympics have ended with a second gold medal.
”I’m happy,” he said, ”that I don’t have to ski again.”
For more AP Olympic coverage: https://www.wintergames.ap.org