Austria’s Johannes Strolz bounced back from being dropped from his team – even working as a traffic policeman for a time – to emulate his father in winning Olympic alpine combined gold on Thursday in Beijing.
Sitting fourth after the opening downhill, Strolz produced the fastest slalom run to clock a combined time of 2min 31.43sec and top the podium, just as his father Hubert did at the 1988 Calgary Olympics.
Norway’s Aleksander Aamodt Kilde added silver to his super-G bronze, finishing 0.59sec slower than the winner, with Canada’s James Crawford taking bronze at 0.68sec, a just reward after he finished fourth in the downhill and sixth in the super-G.
The result crowned a remarkable comeback for Strolz, whose poor form on the World Cup circuit saw him dropped from the demanding Austrian team.
It resulted in the 29-year-old funding his own way on the circuit and working for a time as a traffic cop, but his rise in form was clear for all to see.
Strolz still prepares his own slalom skis, but this season had a breakthrough victory in the Swiss resort of Adelboden despite starting with the lowly bib number of 38 normally worn by rank outsiders.
“It means the world to me because I was not on the team any more last summer, but I made it back into the team and got the full support again,” said Strolz.
“Especially with the history of my father, it means so much to me. When I think about it, all the pictures and my father’s gold medal, it’s hard for me not to cry. It’s just a dream coming true.”
Austria men’s head coach Andreas Puelacher said Strolz’s gold was “amazing”, adding that he had “never imagined it”.
“He wasn’t in the team for a while but he’s come back successfully,” Puelacher said. “A gold medal, that’s another story!”
Strolz’s gold was Austria’s second in alpine skiing at the Beijing Games after Matthias Mayer won the super-G.
In another family parallel, Mayer’s father Helmut won silver in the super-G for Austria as a teammate of Strolz’s father in Calgary.
And bronze-medallist Crawford surpassed his aunt Judy, who finished fourth for Canada in the slalom at the 1972 Sapporo Games.
“She always told me no one remembers fourth place and it feels really good to not be in that situation,” said Crawford.
Kilde made good on advice given to him to “keep up the tempo” by his American girlfriend Mikaela Shiffrin, who has had a disastrous start to the Games after sliding out of her two favoured events.
“It was quite amazing. I haven’t skied slalom in two years. I just had a good feeling when I was skiing. I went for it, just pointed the skis and tried to stay in balance,” the 29-year-old Norwegian said.
“It’s huge. What an Olympic Games it has been. Of course some emotions on the way, but still quite amazing.”
World champion Marco Schwarz made a mistake in the afternoon slalom, the Austrian eventually finishing fifth behind Switzerland’s Justin Murisier.
And France’s pre-race favourite Alexis Pinturault’s hopes of an elusive Olympic gold took a hit with a disappointing downhill and then evaporated as he crashed out of the slalom.
The alpine combined is the oldest alpine event, although no longer part of the World Cup circuit. It remains the ultimate challenge for all-round skiers.
This race in Yanqing had the fewest participants ever in its 12 Olympic appearances – just 27 from 17 nations took part in the morning downhill.
“There were very few who mastered both disciplines today,” said Johan Eliasch, president of the International Ski Federation (FIS). “But I think it definitely has a future.”
Kilde called for combined to be put back on the World Cup circuit.
“I wish it stays on the programme, it’s another discipline, another chance for us to get medals at the Olympics so it would be a pity if they remove it.”