YANQING, China (Reuters) -Austria’s Johannes Strolz equalled his father’s greatest Olympic achievement and completed his own fairytale comeback from the brink of giving up skiing by winning gold in the men’s combined event at the Beijing Games on Thursday.
Strolz, who almost quit the sport a year ago after losing his place in the Austria team, was fastest in the slalom after coming fourth in downhill to pip Norway’s Aleksander Aamodt Kilde to the title.
James Crawford won the bronze medal, handing Canada their first alpine podium finish of the Beijing Games.
Strolz, whose father Hubert won combined gold plus silver in the giant slalom at the Calgary Games in 1988, worked as a policeman in a small town in Austria for months last summer, driving a patrol car and controlling traffic to earn money.
“Especially with the history of my father, it means so much to me,” Strolz said. “When I think about it, all the pictures and the gold medal of my father, it’s hard for me not to cry.
“First of all I have to thank my whole family. They always believed in me, and now it’s a dream coming true, making the same gold medal like my father did.”
The-29-year-old stayed on the ski circuit without official support, preparing his own skis and being his own ‘serviceman’.
“It means the world to me because I was not on the team any more last summer, and made it back into the team, got the full support again,” he added.
“Finally all the sacrifices and the hard work paid off. I think I’m a good example of never giving up. If you believe in yourself you have to take your chance and keep going.”
Strolz was eventually invited to train with the German alpine team and punched his ticket to the Olympics with a stunning slalom victory at a World Cup race in Adelboden in Switzerland last month — his first in his nine years of racing.
“Everybody is incredibly pleased, incredibly excited. It’s a great story,” Austria men’s slalom coach Paul Schwarzacher said. “He’s very humble, very centred.
Strolz’s victory extends Austria’s top podium finish in the men’s combined to a second Olympics after Marcel Hirscher won at the Pyeongchang Games four years ago.
Kilde, who finished first in Thursday’s downhill, won his second medal of the Games to go with his bronze in the super-G.
The Norwegian, who had not competed in slalom for two years, made a late decision to enter the combined, perhaps motivated by his failure to fire in the downhill, the opening alpine race of the Games, on Monday.
“It was quite amazing. I haven’t skied slalom in two years,” Kilde said. “I just had a good feeling when I was skiing. I went for it, just pointed the skis and tried to stay in balance. When you have good skis and good equipment then it runs easier.
“It’s huge. What an Olympic Games it has been. Of course some emotions on the way, but still quite amazing.”
Strolz’s compatriot Marco Schwarz, the combined world champion came fifth, while there was also disappointment for 2018 silver medallist Alexis Pinturault of France, who did not finish his slalom run.
(Reporting by Simon Jennings, additional reporting by Shadia Nasralla, editing by Richard Pullin and Ken Ferris)