Winter Olympics: Armenia’s Battle with the Hill

BY ANTRANIG DEREYAN

The men’s alpine giant slalom kicked off from Whistler, Creekside with only the top 30 skiers advancing for a chance at a second run and a medal.

Austrian skier Marcel Hirscher had the honors of going first and finished with an impressive time of 1:17.48. (He would finish the day without a medal). It was the sixth skier, Carlo Janka from Switzerland, who set the pace with a time of 1:17.27. But with more skiers left to come, it was too early to crown him the fastest going into run 2 (although he would be the eventual gold medal winner).

The story of the event was the weather and snow conditions. Out of the 102-man field, 14 did not finish, most notably American Bode Miller. The DNF list also included Armenian Arsen Nersisyan.

As the top skiers began finishing their respective runs, the conversation on Canadian television turned to why skiers outside the top ranked were allowed to run. The conclusion: national pride. In the crowd, flags from non-skiing countries were waving, as spectators waited for their skiers to go down the hill. In bib 84, Nersisyan saw nine skiers go down on the track. Before he knew it (Erdinc Turksever of Turkey in bib 83 fell on a hard turn), he was racing down the hill.

Nersisyan was only four seconds behind Janka coming through the first turns. Continuing down the hill, he hit the fast part of the track (a mix of snow and ice, with accumulating snow that made ruts the skis could get stuck in), lost his balance, and struggled, but his leg strength allowed him to keep on his skis.

Now eight seconds behind the pace, he went into another turn, his right and left skis in unison. But as he turned, his skis started to wobble. Trying to keep it together, he hit one ski on one of the many piles of snow, and crashed to one side. His run was over.

“Even though Nersisyan crashed, it was a good effort, especially the way he kept upright the first time,” concluded the Canadian announcers.

Those in the crowd aware of the crash applauded the effort. Nersisyan, obviously disappointed, skied to the side and exited the track.

***

In the women’s giant slalom, the track again became the story. As it rained in Downtown Vancouver, the snow fell heavily in the mountains. As the event’s start time neared, the snow and wind were rigorous. For the skiers, it was like driving a car in a blizzard, with no windshield wipers to help.

One by one the skiers did their run. It wasn’t until bib 17, with American Lindsey Vonn’s turn, that the spectators and commentators watching understood the treacherous conditions.

Coming down the mountain, nearing the mid-point, Vonn lost control of her direction. Her skis parted and she skied backwards into the fence. Though she came away with only a broken right middle finger, it was painful to watch and her accident should have been the end of the competition for that day—but it wasn’t.

After Vonn’s fall, the snow continued falling and track conditions worsened. Bib wearing 28, 30, 34, 40, 47, 50, 57, 60, 64, 65, 68, 71, 75, 78, and 82 were all DNF for one reason or another, not seeing were to turn or how far to take the turn.

Armenian Ani-Matilda Serebrakian, with bib 83, stormed out of the gate, unafraid of what befell the other skiers before her. Going down the hill, heading toward the mid-point, she was flawless and looked like she would qualify for a second run. (Like the men, only the top 30 riders have a second run and a chance to medal.) With her mask, a coat of snow across, she made her turns, the crowd cheering her on, and she didn’t appear to have anything stopping her from finishing.

However, with her speed, she came up to a far right turn, and all of sudden, pulled up, holding her right hand. What happened? She had come so close to the sty that it had whacked her hand with enormous force, knocking her out of the race. No injury report was filed from the AOC, but one AOC official said, “She is fine.”

Due to all of the DNF, the second runs were postponed until 9:30 a.m., Feb. 25.

This means that both Armenian athletes DNF in their respective alpine events and only have the slalom left.

Every day is becoming a learning experience for this young team and when the time comes for the slalom, both Nersisyan and Serebrakian will know the course better and how to handle the conditions, speed, turns, and their ski positioning.

The men’s slalom is scheduled to run at 10 a.m., PST time, on Feb. 27. The women’s slalom is at 10 a.m., PST time, Feb. 26.

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