Winless for 1 year: Kristoffersen longs for slalom success

KITZBUEHEL, Austria (AP) — Henrik Kristoffersen’s wait for his 17th World Cup victory reached the one-year mark on Saturday.

And with new rivals appearing at the front alongside his eternal nemesis Marcel Hirscher, it doesn’t get easier for the Norwegian to end his drought.

Kristoffersen finished fourth on Saturday in the Hahnenkamm slalom, the race he won a year ago. He briefly led after his second run, but had to witness how his time was beaten right away by, once more, Hirscher.

As soon as the Austrian, who won 11 of the last 15 slaloms, crossed the finish line, Kristoffersen threw away one of his ski poles in frustration.

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“This is ski racing, these emotions are important,” he said. “My second run was good but it was two-tenths slower than Marcel. That’s how it is at the moment.”

However, it’s not just Hirscher standing in Kristoffersen’s way.

The race was won by Clement Noel, who has made a meteoric rise to the summit of World Cup slalom racing at age 21. The Frenchman’s win came just six days after he celebrated his maiden victory at another classic World Cup venue, Wengen.

Noel’s rise reminded Kristoffersen of his own early days on the circuit.

“Hats off to Clement, it’s incredible,” the Norwegian said. “But I know this feeling. You have the self-confidence and not too much pressure yet, so you can ski without worries. That’s pretty cool for him.”

A six-time junior world champion in various events, Kristoffersen was only 17 when he made his World Cup debut in March 2012.

He won his first race two years later, defeating Hirscher in a night slalom watched by 50,000 Austrian fans in Schladming, and added Olympic bronze in Sochi the following month.

Within two years, Kristoffersen piled up 10 World Cup victories and he even beat Hirscher to the season-long slalom title in 2016.

He went on to win five more slaloms the following season, but after winning in Schladming again in January 2017, he lost his edge over the Austrian.

Last season, he finished on the podium in all nine slaloms, but he won just one of them — in Kitzbuehel — as he was usually beaten by Hirscher, who racked up seven wins in the discipline.

“It’s the same story each time,” Kristoffersen said. “In the end he is faster. That’s hard for me. I would really like to be faster than Marcel.”

On the rare occasion where Hirscher fails to finish a race, Kristoffersen seems to do the same. It happened in the Olympic slalom in Pyeongchang a year ago, and in a night event in Madonna di Campiglio last month.

This season, Kristoffersen had top-three finishes in three slaloms and three giant slaloms, raising his career total of podium results to 51.

With just one World Cup win in the past two years, Kristoffersen remains eager to turn the tables, this time on Tuesday in Schladming, where he has won three times in the past.

It will be the final men’s slalom before the world championships in Are, Sweden, where Kristoffersen faces another challenge — winning his first medal. In three previous worlds, he’s been fourth three times.

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