WENGEN, Switzerland (AP) — For an event that risks losing its Olympic status next month, Alpine combined put on a good show Friday.
Marco Schwarz won the men’s World Cup race, using a solid downhill run to retain his first-leg advantage in slalom.
Schwarz was 0.42 seconds ahead of Victor Muffat-Jeandet, the 2018 Olympic bronze medalist in combined from France. Olympic silver medalist Alexis Pinturault was third, 1.12 behind Schwarz.
Alpine combined’s place in the sport is at risk after the world championships in Sweden next month, where a decision is pending to replace it with parallel slalom racing at future Olympics and worlds.
That could still suit the 23-year-old Schwarz, who got his first World Cup win on New Year’s Day in the parallel format in Oslo.
Schwarz is having a breakout year after being one of Austria’s top teenage prospects. He was a three-time gold medalist at the 2012 Winter Youth Olympics in Innsbruck, and two years later a junior world champion in super-G.
Despite his talent for speed, and fourth place in combined at the Pyeongchang Olympics, Schwarz focuses on technical gate events — slalom and giant slalom — in the World Cup.
Schwarz was runner-up in slalom in Madonna di Campiglio, Italy, last month, then wasted a first-run lead in slaloms in Zagreb and Adelboden by straddling gates.
“I didn’t think so much about them, where I pushed the limits and it was a bit too much,” Schwarz said.
Both of those failures came when Schwarz was chasing a target time posted by the world’s best skier, Marcel Hirscher, who is also Olympic champion in combined. Hirscher skipped Friday’s race to focus on the slalom on Sunday.
The 2019 worlds in Are could be a swansong for combined in favor of television-friendly parallel racing preferred by broadcasters and promoted by the International Ski Federation.
The battle is not over, according to Muffat-Jeandet, who said he believes parallel racing has disappointed ski officials who supported its development.
“A lot of nations are coming back on what they think,” Muffat-Jeandet said. “For me, it (combined) is the history of skiing.”
The classic combined — adding run times in downhill and slalom to find the best all-around skier — has a long tradition and was the original Olympic event in Alpine skiing at the 1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen Games.
It was revived at the 1988 Calgary Olympics and provided American skiers Ted Ligety, in 2006, with his first Olympic gold medal and Bode Miller, in 2010, with his only Olympic title.
The storied Swiss venue of Wengen has been a mainstay of combined on the World Cup circuit though only two are scheduled this season. The other is in Bansko, Bulgaria, next month.
The format was flipped on Friday by race organizers, who ran the slalom leg first. This created time for clouds to clear before a downhill run under blue skies and sunshine, and allowed course workers to clear overnight snowfall from the hill.
More sunshine is forecast Saturday for the classic Lauberhorn downhill race.
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