COURCHEVEL, France (AP) — Greek racer AJ Ginnis finished runner-up to gold medalist Henrik Kristoffersen of Norway in slalom at the Alpine skiing world championships on Sunday to earn his country its first world championships medal in a Winter Olympic sport.
“You put Greece on the map,” Johan Eliasch, president of the International Ski and Snowboard Federation, told Ginnis before handing him the silver medal at the awards ceremony.
Ginnis stood second after the opening run and held on to his position to finish 0.20 behind Kristoffersen in the final race of the competition.
“It’s just a dream, the last two weeks. History for Greece, best moment in my career,” Ginnis said. “I can’t believe it. I don’t know what happened. During the run I thought it was not enough and I just gave everything in the last gates.”
After the first run, Ginnis said he had “no pressure.”
“I ski for Greece, so I ski free,” he said, adding with a laugh that he prayed to “all 12” Greek gods before the race.
Kristoffersen posted the fastest-second run time as he improved from 16th position. Alex Vinatzer finished 0.38 behind to take bronze and earn the Italian men their first medal at these worlds.
First-run leader Manuel Feller of Austria dropped to seventh.
Ginnis already became the first skier from Greece on a World Cup podium when he finished second in the last slalom before worlds.
Ginnis was born in Greece and 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.
He’s now coached by two friends, Sandy Vietz and Gaby Coulet.
“He went to chase his dream for Greece after so many injuries and he never let go,” Coulet said. “He’s a role model of perseverance and also sportsmanship.”
Ginnis doesn’t 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 … so I’m not complaining.”
American skier Luke Winters, one of Ginnis’ former teammates, was impressed.
“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.”
Kristoffersen said it was hard watching 15 skiers, including Ginnis, come down after him. The Norwegian gestured and stood up from the leader’s chair and buried his head in his hands several times.
“It’s way worse sitting down here waiting than being on the top leading after the first run,” Kristoffersen said. “I have won 23 World Cup (slalom) races, I was about 50 times on the podium, but this is my first gold medal (in slalom). Maybe it’s the right time.”
It was the Norwegian’s second world title after winning gold in giant slalom four years ago. He become only the 10th male skier to win both world titles in the tech disciplines.
“That’s a prestigious list to be on,” said Kristoffersen, who won the crystal globe for best slalom skier of the World Cup season three times.
Kristoffersen switched his equipment supplier in the offseason, joining the ski brand founded by his former rival and record-eight time overall champion Marcel Hirscher, who retired in 2019.
With Feller losing his first-run lead, Austria was left without a gold medal for the first time in 36 years at worlds — since Crans Montana in 1987.
Austria will host the next worlds in Saalbach-Hinterglemm in 2025.
Lucas Braathen shared second position with Ginnis after the opening run but dropped to seventh, sharing that position with Feller.
Braathen, who leads the season-long World Cup standings in the slalom, competed less than three weeks after he underwent surgery for appendicitis.
Olympic champion Clement Noel missed the podium by three-hundredths in fourth place, and defending champion Sebastian Foss-Solevaag of Norway finished 19th.
Switzerland led the medal table with three golds and seven medals in total, ahead of Norway with two golds and nine medals overall.
The U.S. team also had two gold medals, from the team event and from Mikaela Shiffrin’s triumph in the women’s giant slalom.
Willemsen reported from Vienna.
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