The course was steep and difficult, though the snow conditions held up better than many of the skiers had anticipated, given the bright sunshine and warm weather
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — It's called the super-combined, but the combined efforts of two U.S. superstars of skiing didn't amount to much Friday at the Olympics.
The defending gold medalist (Bode Miller) and the reigning world champion (Ted Ligety) in the event were non-factors in a race both of them thought they had a chance to win.
Instead, Switzerland's Sandro Viletta, 28, a career one-time winner (in super-G) who has never been on a podium (top three) in a World Cup or major championship super-combined event, was the surprise gold medalist.
Viletta was 14th in the morning downhill — sandwiched between 12th-place Miller and 18th-place Ligety — but had the second-fastest slalom time, and his overall time of 2 minutes, 45.20 seconds took the gold by 0.34 seconds over silver medalist Ivica Kostelic of Croatia.
"It's a moment I cannot believe," Viletta said. "I knew after the downhill the slalom specialists were less than a second behind me. I knew I had to risk all. The slalom was just a perfect run for me."
Kostelic, who turned 34 in November, becomes the second-oldest Olympic alpine medalist, behind Norway's Kjetil Andre Aamodt, who was 34 years and sixth months when he won the 2006 super-G.
Kostelic, skiing on a course set by his coach and father, Ante Kostelic, won his fourth career Olympic medal — all of them silver. This was the third consecutive Olympiad he won silver in combined.
Asked if he was stuck on silver, Kostelic said, "This is a question I get a lot. I obviously specialize in silver. Everyone likes winners."
Kostelic said he was very proud that his medal was the 10th for his family. His sister, former star Janica Kostelic, won six Olympic medals.
The bronze went to Italy's Christof Innerhofer, who on Sunday won the silver in the downhill.
"Now I am here with two medals — it's unbelievable," Innerhofer said.
Kostelic's father is a longtime coach — and course-setter — on the World Cup circuit. In ski racing, a coach of one of the top-seeded racers sets the courses. The course-setter is chosen by lottery, and Kostelic's name happened to be chosen.
He is known for idiosyncratic course-sets, and Friday's was no different, featuring a "Royal Flush" — four gates set straight down the slope allowing skiers to build speed before entering a sharper turn.
The course was steep and difficult, though the snow conditions held up better than many of the skiers had anticipated, given the bright sunshine and warm weather. Course workers salted the snow in an attempt to harden the snow, and some of the skiers said those efforts paid off.
Still, a lot of skiers weren't able to get all the way through the course. That included the USA's Andrew Weibrecht and one of the pre-race favorites, France's Alexis Pinturault. In all, 12 of the 46 skiers who started the slalom failed to finish or were disqualified.
Miller, 36, of Franconia, N.H., got tossed around on the early part of the course and wasn't able to put together an epic run, which is what it would have taken for him to win a medal after he finished 12th in the morning downhill.
"Bode needed to have a better downhill run to be in the game today," said U.S. coach Sasha Rearick. "In the slalom, he just didn't find the rhythm."
Miller, a slalom star early in his career who hasn't seriously trained slalom in quite a while, had the seventh-best slalom and finished sixth overall.
"It was pretty lousy," Miller said of his slalom run. "I thought the snow held up pretty well. It was just pretty challenging right out of the start. You go out to a really steep pitch. The way Ante sets that thing there are a lot of differences in distance. So there's no rhythm. One turn is little longer and the next one is really short. He sets you across the fall line. For me, I don't have enough confidence in my slalom to go out and just hit it. I tried anyway, because that's what I had to do to be on the podium.
"He (Kostelic) sets challenging courses. That's one of his traits. And everybody knows it. You get a medal regardless of whether it's tough or not. I won in Vancouver on one of his sets.
"I knew I had to push hard but unfortunately this course was just too tough for me. When I pushed hard, I just ended up making a bunch of mistakes."
Ligety, 29, of Park City, Utah, finished 12th, behind 22-year-old U.S. teammate Jared Goldberg, who was 11th.
"I just skied too conservatively, and that's disappointing," Ligety said of his slalom run, the eighth-fastest. "It would have been easier to be a lot faster. But it didn't go that way.
"I would have much rather blown out being on the line, being fast, than doing what I did today. I guess I just respected the course too much.
"It's a bummer. It would have been nice to win a medal today. I'm still confident in my ability. There are still a lot of events left."
At last year's world championships, Ligety won gold in super-combined, super-G and giant slalom.
The next men's race in Sochi is the super-G on Sunday.