All hail Maria Riesch, the Winter Olympics' favorite kind of skier

A certain type of skier thrives at the Winter Olympics: the all-rounder who can do well in skiing's four disciplines. Maria Riesch did this Friday with a slalom gold – her second gold here.

Germany's Maria Riesch negotiates the slalom course on the way to winning gold at the Winter Olympics Friday.

Germany’s Maria Riesch is just the sort of skier that the Winter Games love.

Friday, she won her second gold medal of the Vancouver Olympics, taking the slalom by 0.43 seconds over Austria’s Marlies Schild.

Her other gold came in the combined – the single event designed to determine the most well-rounded skier, forcing them to compete in skiing’s most different disciplines, downhill and slalom.

For most of the year, these two poles of the skiing world never meet.

The World Cup generally separates the slower, technical events (slalom and giant slalom) from the faster speed events (downhill and super-G), meaning that the speed skiers and the technical skiers rarely race on the same weekend.

Except at the biennial world championships – and the Olympics.

May the best (all-around) skier win

The Winter Olympics are, in essence, one two-week combined race. They allow those few skiers who can adapt to the demands of all four skiing disciplines to separate themselves from the crowd.

In Whistler, that is exactly what has happened. The world’s best all-around skiers have taken center stage.

Bode Miller, the only man ever to win at least five World Cup races in every discipline, has won three medals – one of each color.

Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal has carried on the legacy of countrymen Kjetil Andre Aamodt and Lasse Kjus, the greatest all-around skiers in recent Olympic history. Svindal, like Miller, has won one medal of each color, and was headed for at least a bronze in the combined when he skied out of the slalom run.

Swiss Carlo Janka, touted by many as the next great all-around skier, took gold in the giant slalom.

Bode's last hurrah

Becoming a better all-around skier is one of American Lindsey Vonn’s goals. For the moment, she dominates the World Cup circuit in the speed events but struggles in the technical events.

Saturday, Miller will try to add to his medal tally in the slalom. Once a slalom specialist, Miller was transitioning to speed events around the time of the Turin Games. Now, he is most definitely a speed skier.

But as his gold-medal winning run in the combined showed, when he can hold on to his run, he’s still one of the fastest slalom skiers in the world.

“In any given race he could light the place up or roll into a waterfall,” says Shauna Farnell of Ski Racing magazine, in an e-mail. “He has a very special innate talent.”


Follow Mark on his Olympic Twitter feed or on Facebook.

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