Silver medalist's father designed super-combined ski course, and why that's accepted practice

Croatia's Ivica Kostelic skis in the slalom portion of the men's supercombined to win the silver medal at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – For all elite skiers, there are days when it feels as if a mountain racecourse was arranged just for you. And in the Sochi Olympics, there are days when your father actually does arrange the racecourse for you.

Meet Croatian skier Ivica Kostelic, who won the silver medal in the super-combined on Friday, finishing on a slalom course that was designed earlier this week by his father – Croatian coach Ante Kostelic.

Admittedly, it sounds scandalous – a father positioning racing gates on an Olympic course that will be used by his son. But it's an accepted tradition in the sport, where coaches are chosen via lottery to design a slalom course. The rules are simple: If a coach has a skier in the top 15 of an event, he can be entered into the lottery to choose who designs the course. The Americans could win the honor. The Russians could win. And as we saw on Friday, the Croatians could win, too … a decided advantage when Ivica, who has three Olympic silvers in combined and one in slalom, has long been one of the best slalom skiers in the world.

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So is there a temptation for coaches to design a course advantageous to their skiers? The answer is yes – and that's an accepted part of the sport. Is there even more of a temptation to do it when one of your skiers is also your son? Well, that's hard to say. Ante wasn't available for comment Friday. But Ivica was after his silver medal win. And he was crystal clear about his feelings: He likes the way his father works it.

"I don't prefer my father's courses because he's my father – I just prefer that his courses are questioning and trying the skier in many ways," Ivica said. "In his courses, there are no accidental winners. That's why [Friday's gold medal winner, Switzerland's Sandro Viletta] is deserving of this victory, because he skied the slalom very well. You need to be a good skier, to ski smart and with skill in a course setting like that. This is what sport is about. It should test you in many ways and there should be no accidental winners.

"I know that a lot of discussion has been [happening] over his course setting. I'd just like to say that his course setting is somewhat old-fashioned, the way the courses used to look like before the measuring was introduced into the World Cup. Since that time, you know, everyone became a course setter, because all you need today is just a measuring tape and a drill and you're a course setter. Things weren't like that before. Course setters are just as skiers. Some are gifted and some are not."

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We'll just assume that he's counting his dad in the "gifted" category. Of course, it's worth noting that Ante's courses have long drawn mixed reviews for their lack of "rhythm." And it was no different Friday, as a stunning 12 skiers either wiped out or missed a gate and failed to finish the slalom course. One of those skiers was the United States' Andrew Weibrecht, who called Ante's creation "not really that rhythmical and just sort of an obstacle course."


Bode Miller stuck up for Ante's courses, noting that he actually won his 2010 Vancouver gold in super-combined on a slalom course set up by the elder Kostelic. That said, Miller concurs – they're not the easiest runs in the world.

"The way Ante sets that thing, he has a lot of differences in distance," Miller said. "So there's no rhythm. One turn has to be a little longer, and the next one is really short. He sets you across the fall line, and for me, I just don't have enough confidence in my slalom to just pin it [on a turn].

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"Today was tough. It was tough for everybody. I don't think anybody came down that [slalom] feeling awesome."

Well, almost nobody. Viletta called it a "very good course" … because, well, he won a gold on it. And Ivica was pretty excited to have his silver. Which, he noted, is a better medal than Americans give it credit.

"The Americans, they say the second [place] is the first loser. This is not completely true," Ivica said. "Because if the first guy beat all the losers, then he is a loser himself. … One should not be unthankful for the silver. First of all, I could be anywhere. I could be in the hospital now, too. I could be picking garbage in Kolkata or dying of hunger in Africa. Anyone who complains about silver or bronze doesn't have the right to do so."

Well. OK then.

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