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U.S. shut out as Swiss dark horse wins Olympic men's super combined

Unknown Sandro Viletta surpasses American favorites Bode Miller and Ted Ligety for the gold in Sochi. 'It's crazy that I can be here today,' he says.

February 14, 2014|By Chris Dufresne

SOCHI, Russia -- The last two Olympic combined champions, both Americans, couldn't get out of the snowplow's way Friday.

After lead-footing his morning downhill, defending gold medalist Bode Miller drove his slalom run like a bumper-car ride and later admitted the course "was too tough for me."

Ted Ligety, the 2006 gold winner and current world champion in the event, let the mountain play him.

FRAMEWORK: Best images from Sochi

"I respected the course too much," he said.

Miller finished sixth and Ligety finished 12th and handed their super combined crowns to an inconspicuous Swiss racer who once used acupuncture to overcome a fear of flying.

Sandro Viletta's unlikely victory sent people scurrying for his ski-racing biography.

His lone top-three finish in 100 races on the World Cup circuit was a win in super giant slalom in 2011 at Beaver Creek, Colo.

Friday makes Viletta a "two-hit" wonder.

His win at Rosa Khutor is comparable to Michael Campbell coming out of nowhere to win the U.S. Open at Pinehurst.

Viletta was 14th after the morning downhill and has no World Cup slalom points this year. Yet, for one run of his life, he posted the second-fastest slalom time and finished with a winning two-run total of 2 minutes 45:20.

"It's crazy that I can be here today," Viletta said.

Croatia's Ivica Kostelic finished .34 back and won combined silver for a third consecutive Olympics. It was his fourth overall silver, more than any racer in alpine history.

Italy's Christop Innerhofer followed his second in Sunday's downhill by winning bronze, .47 off of Villeta's time.

Kostelic, who is a very good slalom skier, was the clear favorite after finishing seventh in the morning downhill.

His quest for his first gold, though, was trumped by Viletta's unexpected slalom brilliance.

Kostelic's medal was the 10th for his family, with his sister Janica winning six (four gold).

Ivica could put his silver in perspective because his 34-year-old body has been beset by injuries. He's had 10 surgeries on his right knee alone.

As for falling short of gold, Kostelic offered: "One should not be unthankful for the silver. I could be anywhere right now. I could be in hospital, or picking garbage in Calcutta, or dying of hunger in Africa."

The slalom course, by random draw, was set by Kostelic's father, Ante, but the final result quieted any calls of nepotism.

"In his courses there are no accidental winners," Ivica said of his dad's setup. "That's why Sandro is deserving of this medal."

Team USA left the finish area shaking its collective head.

Andrew Weibrecht posted a "did not finish" after face-planting on his slalom run, while rookie Jared Goldberg upstaged Ligety by finishing 11th.

The U.S. Ski Team won eight alpine medals at the Vancouver Games but so far in Sochi has only Julia Mancuso's bronze to brag about through four events.

"As a team we skied defensive," U.S. men's coach Sasha Rearick said after Friday's race.

Miller has made excuses all week about the weather and the conditions, but this one was on him.

"The mistakes I made, there's no excuse for those," Miller said, "I know this course."

Ligety also needed to stay close enough in the downhill to let his exceptional gate skills close the gap. But his tentative morning skiing left him 1.93 seconds back, and he followed that by clocking only the eighth-fastest slalom time.

Ligety finished 2.19 seconds behind the winner.

He said he got skittish when he saw gates expert, Alexis Pinturault of France, crash in his slalom run.

Ligety admitted later, though, that the course was not as tough as it seemed.

"I could have gone way, way harder," Ligety said.

If U.S. coaches are smart, they'll lift Ligety's quote and post it in the locker room.

Twitter: @DufresneLATimes

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