KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – After watching the course set by Croatian coach Ante Kostelic crush five of the top eight skiers in the final run of the Olympic slalom Saturday night, American Ted Ligety called Kostelic's creation "borderline unsportsmanlike."
A frustrated Ligety had an opportunity to reach for a medal after the first run, but was cut down by Kostelic's course – a fate shared by 13 of the top 30 skiers who made it through to the second run of the night. In all, an astonishing 34 of 77 skiers either failed to finish the course or were disqualified in the second run, creating a muddled final event in Sochi's Alpine disciplines.
"Ante set a really typical Ante course set, which is borderline unsportsmanlike to set those kinds of courses on these kinds of hills," Ligety said. "That's how it goes. Everybody had to ski it. Not all the best guys had a chance to make it down, unfortunately. …Not really the most ideal venue for having a course that wasn't the most fair thing in the world."
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Ligety wasn't a favorite in the event, but he finished his first run just .11 seconds out of bronze-medal position and .86 behind eventual gold-medal winner Mario Matt. He believed that if he could duplicate the run in the second race, he'd have a spot on the podium. American Nolan Kasper finished a respectable 13th while David Chodounsky failed to finish his first run.
It's not the first time in these games there has been some eyebrows furrowed in Kostelic's direction. Saturday was actually the second time the Croatian coach set a run in these games – the first being the slalom portion of the men's super combined. Kostelic's son Ivica captured silver in that event, climbing up the standings by masterfully skiing his father's creation.
Ligety called such an occurrence an "ethical question" Saturday night, but knows it's also an accepted practice in the sport. Coaches with skiers in the top-15 rankings of a discipline can enter a drawing to set the course in that same discipline. Kostelic won that honor twice at these Games – something that didn't go unnoticed.
"At times, [Kostelic's courses] are too much," said France's Alexis Pinturault, a medal contender who failed to finish the second run. "But these are the rules. We can't say anything. …We thought that it's not normal to set a race two times in the Olympics. For me, it's not normal."
Skiers said the issues Saturday night were typical to Kostelic's reputation: varying distances between gates that destroyed rhythm, settings into ruts dug out by previous races, and successive hard turns that seem to be meant to knock over a skier.
"I've been skiing for 23 years and I've never seen a course like that," said Canada's Brad Spence.
"You saw up there, there's a hairpin [turn] into another hairpin," Ligety said. "But one was really straight, going into another one that was super turn-y. That was what took out most of the field right there. It's just not a course set that you can ski in a typical modern technique."
After Ivica Kostelic won silver on his father's slalom in the super combined, he was defensive about criticism of his father's course setting. He defended his father's courses as "old school" and the product of a "gifted" setter. Ivica finished ninth Saturday night, and came out jabbing again when the subject turned to the course.
"This course will show the difference between a very good slalom skier and those who belong to the second league," he said.
But Ligety argued that Kostelic's courses hurt the showcase of Alpine skiing on the Olympic stage, hindering the best in the slalom discipline and giving an advantage to those who could simply finish a race – not necessarily race the best.
"This Olympics, you were trying to showcase our sport to the rest of the world," he said. "I don't think this does us any favors, especially when you have 12 guys in the top 30 go out. …When the snow is as poor as it is right now, it's just a battle of who makes it down relatively clean – not necessarily being the best guy in the world, but if you can make it down cleanly.
"I'm really glad I wasn't one of the big medal favorites today, because that would have been really tough to swallow, having to ski this course set."
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