Austrian breaks Norway’s stranglehold with thrilling Winter Olympics win

Austria's Matthias Mayer stunned Norway's skiers with a thrilling men's super-G slalom victory at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on Friday, breaking a Norwegian stranglehold which dates back to 2002.

Austrian breaks Norway's stranglehold with thrilling Winter Olympics win
Austria's Matthias Mayer (C) won Super-G gold, while Switzerland's Beat Feuz (L) took silver and Kjetil Jansrud (R) of Norway bronze. Cornelius Poppe / NTB scanpix

Mayer seized the lead from Norwegian defending champion Kjetil Jansrud with a blistering descent of 1min 24.44sec. Switzerland's Beat Feuz took silver, 0.13sec adrift, while Jansrud had to settle for bronze.

Norwegian skiers had won five of the eight previous Olympic super-G races, including the last four, and appeared to have locked up another victory when Jansrud bombed down in 1.24:62.

But Mayer, 27, mastered the course to outpace Jansrud by 0.18sec before downhill world champion Feuz, the next man to descend, grabbed second place.

“It was an awesome run, now I have my second gold medal,” said Mayer. “It is most special.”

Mayer, the Sochi 2014 downhill winner, trumps his father, Helmut, who won super-G silver in 1988, and emerges victorious just three days after he ploughed into bystanders during the combined event.

It was a particularly sweet victory for Mayer, who failed to finish the super-G at Sochi 2014 and also at last year's world championships. In between those two events, he fractured a vertebra in 2015.

France's Blaise Giezendanner grabbed a surprise fourth position after briefly occupying second place, while Norway's Axel Lund Svindal, who won the downhill on Thursday, was fifth.

Strong winds have played havoc with the schedule in Pyeongchang and organisers are playing catch-up with the alpine events, meaning a demanding few days for the racers.

“It's always very tough, especially when the races are in such short gap apart,” said the triumphant Mayer.

“We don't know the hills, that always makes us worry, especially in super-G because we only have little training and that makes this medal for me so special.”

Jansrud's medal puts him in joint third place in the all-time list of Olympic skiing medallists, behind only countryman Kjetil Andre Aamodt and America's Bode Miller.

Svindal, 35, won the men's downhill as the wind-disrupted skiing races got under way on Thursday, becoming the oldest alpine ski champion in Games history.

Norway have ruled the physically demanding super-G in Olympic competition since the turn of the century, winning in 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014, as well as 1992.

Friday's race was held over the Jeongseon Downhill course, which plunges 650m in altitude over two kilometres (1.24 miles) in a scenic valley in the Pyeongchang mountains.

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Norwegian Winter Olympics superstar Marit Bjørgen to retire

Norway's legendary biathlete Marit Bjørgen, who won a record eighth gold medal at the Winter Olympics in February, on Friday said she would call it quits at the age of 38.

Norwegian Winter Olympics superstar Marit Bjørgen to retire
Norwegian biathlon legend Marit Bjørgen. Photo: Berit Roald / NTB scanpix

“I don't feel I have the motivation required to give 100 percent for another season, that's why I'm quitting,” she told public broadcaster NRK.

“I thought it would be easier to say. I'm emotional. It has been an epoch in my life, over 20 years. So it's a bit special to say that this is my last season as an elite athlete,” she said.

Bjørgen underlined her status as an all-time great in the sport at the games in Pyeongchang, South Korea earlier this year, when she grabbed a record-extending 15th Winter Olympics medal, winning the 30km cross country to put Norway top of the final medals table.

The Olympian had earlier become the most successful winter games competitor of all time by finishing third in the team sprint free.

Her bronze with Maiken Caspersen Falla put her on 14 Olympic medals, outstripping fellow Norwegian Ole Einar Bjørndalen, who has 13 in the biathlon.

Bjørgen is also the second most successful woman at either the Summer or Winter Games, trailing only Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina with 18 medals.

She was showered with tributes from fellow athletes, and politicians, after the news broke on Friday.

“She was terribly important to me, she was my idol,” said Therese Johaug, a seven-time world champion and former Olympic gold medallist who was suspended after failing a drug test.

“You have been a source of inspiration and a role model, you made us jump with joy and scream with excitement,” former Norwegian Prime Minister and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg wrote on his Twitter account.

Bjørgen claimed her first World Cup victory in Dusseldorf in October 2002 and her first Olympic medal (silver) in Salt Lake City the same year.

She gave birth to her first and only son, Marius, in 2015.

Norway, a country of 5.2 million people, enjoyed a barnstorming Winter Olympics, breaking the United States' 2010 record of 37 medals at a single winter games.

Bjørndalen, the most decorated male Winter Olympian in history, also announced his retirement this week, saying he would quit at the end of the season at the age of 44.

READ ALSO: 'We are not super-human': the secret to Norway's Olympic success