Carlo Janka stakes claim as next ski star with giant slalom gold

Swiss skier Carlo Janka confirmed a career in ascent with giant slalom gold Tuesday, and pushed the arch-rival Austrians off the podium to boot. For the first time at the Vancouver Olympics, the US failed to medal in an alpine event.

Swiss Carlo Janka celebrates his win in the men's giant slalom in typically understated fashion at the Winter Olympics in Whistler, British Columbia, Tuesday.

This morning before the men's giant slalom, Carlo Janka might have felt a bit like an Austrian. The young Swiss alpine skier, of whom so much had been expected in the Olympics, had delivered no medals in the first three races – kind of like the Austrian men.

On Tuesday in the giant slalom, one of those streaks ended and the other – incredibly – remained intact.

Janka took gold, and as an added bonus, his finish pushed the arch-rival Austrians off the podium entirely, leaving the men’s team still oh-for-Vancouver.

Norwegians Kjetil Jansrud and Aksel Lund Svindal took silver and bronze. Svindal, like American Bode Miller, now has one medal of each color at the Vancouver Games, after winning gold in the super-G and silver in the downhill.

Miller did not finish Tuesday. He made early mistakes in his first run of the giant slalom and skied out of the course trying to make up time. America’s other medal hopeful, Ted Ligety, finished ninth, 1.28 seconds back of Janka – ending the US streak of medaling in every alpine event at the Vancouver Olympics.

(How did American alpine skiers rock the Olympics up to this point? We wrote about that here.)

For his part, Janka won the Olympic giant slalom the way he wins all his races on the World Cup: without much fuss.

On the skiing circuit, this has won him the nickname of the "Iceman.”

On skis, he is a cross between an accountant and an artist, every turn hinting at a splendid economy of motion. In a sport that often can be a desperate attempt to cling to the fall line, Janka seems to ski it effortlessly.

“When he says it’s not so special, the Olympic Games, it’s like another race, I believe him because he is so cool,” says Alejandro Velert of SchweizerIllustrierte, a Swiss magazine.

The result is confirmation of a career in ascent. After a hot start to the World Cup tour this season – including three victories on consecutive days, something not done for four decades – Janka has cooled, losing the lead in the overall World Cup standings to Austrian Benjamin Raich.

Tuesday, he struck back, topping three Austrians – including Raich – who finished fourth, fifth, and sixth. “He’s born like this, with mental strength, mental power,” says Klaus Mayrhofer, a coach for Austrian women’s speed team.

“You either have it or you don’t,” he adds.

Janka has always had it, apparently, though it took a while for it to become apparent. Janka never won a race on the Europa Cup, a sort of World Cup B-league, and he was never on top as a junior, says Velert.

Then, one day he went from 40th to second, Velert says, and he hasn’t looked back.

And Tuesday, he gave the Swiss a few more bragging rights over their Alpine neighbor.


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