Greek skier Ginnis on course to earn a medal at worlds

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COURCHEVEL, France (AP) — Greek racer AJ Ginnis was positioned to earn his country an astonishing result at the Alpine skiing world championships on Sunday.

Ginnis was tied with Lucas Braathen of Norway in second position, 0.13 seconds behind Austrian leader Manuel Feller, in the opening slalom run in the final event of the worlds.

Greece has never won a medal at world championships in any Olympic sport on snow or ice.

“I have no pressure. I ski for Greece, so I ski free,” said Ginnis, adding with a laugh that he prayed to “all 12” Greek gods before the race.

Ginnis already became the first skier from Greece on a World Cup podium when he finished second in the last slalom before the worlds.

“Two weeks ago I was at an awesome high having the first podium at a World Cup event for Greece in winter sports. And a medal would be unbelievable,” he said. “I’m not going to think about that right now. I’m just going to focus on the second run. And you better bet I’m going to give it all I got.”

Ginnis, whose wife is American, was born in Greece He learned to ski at Mount Parnassus, a 2 ½-hour drive from Athens. At 12 he moved to Austria with his father, a ski instructor. He then moved to the United States and competed for the U.S. ski team at the 2017 worlds.

Due to a series of injuries, Ginnis struggled to provide results for the U.S. team and the American men’s slalom squad was disbanded after the 2017-18 season. That’s when he decided to start racing for Greece.

Ginnis is coached by two friends, Sandy Vietz and Gaby Coulet.

“Sandy Vietz was a classmate of mine at GMVS (Green Mountain Valley School) and also a teammate on the U.S. ski team for a couple of years,” he said. “When I started the Greek team, he’s the first person I called to coach me. I offered him pretty much a zero salary and I knew he was going to say yes. So that’s why I did that.

“And then Gaby Coulet was a skier at UVM (the University of Vermont). He was roommates and best friends with Sandy. … We realized we need an extra pair of hands because two people on the World Cup does not work. So we called Gaby up and Gaby was more than happy to quit his job and come join us in January. So we’ve been Three Musketeers ever since. Those guys would do anything for me. They sacrificed a lot. So it’s a good time and we make it work.”

Ginnis does not blame the U.S. team for letting him go.

“All credit to them. They did develop me. I think for me it was like a will of wanting to ski for my home country because I did grow up there and then for them, I was a really injured athlete,” Ginnis said.

“So I don’t blame them at all for cutting the team when they did. It sure made things harder for me. But, hey, I’m here, I’m second after first run of world champs, so I’m not complaining.”

American skier Luke Winters, one of Ginnis’ former teammates, called the Greek’s performance “impressive.”

“He’s always had the speed. It’s good to see him consistently put it in there,” Winters said. “It’s just how the sport goes. All of a sudden, you figure it out and some people can go right to the top.”

Feller is chasing his country’s first gold medal of the championships. Austria led the medal table with five golds two years ago and has won at least one event at every worlds since 1987.

Feller crashed and hurt his hip during pre-race warmups but seemed unaffected by the incident. He avoided risks on the first steep section after the start but posted the fastest split times in the last two sections.

Braathen, who leads the season-long World Cup standings in the slalom, competed less than three weeks after he underwent surgery for appendicitis. The Norwegian led Feller by 0.41 halfway through his run but lost time on the final part of the course.

It’s Braathen’s first world championships race after he missed the previous worlds in 2021 following knee surgery.

In a tight a race, the top 19 all finished within one second of Feller’s lead.

Linus Strasser of Germany was 0.14 back in fourth. Defending champion Sebastian Foss-Solevaag stood fifth with the Norwegian having 0.35 to make up in the second run. Olympic champion Clement Noel trailed by 0.64.

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Willemsen reported from Vienna.

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