Luca Aerni’s surprise combined gold gives Swiss its best worlds in 26 years
Swiss Luca Aerni didn’t know if he’d be racing the world championships super combined until Sunday night. He ended up winning gold, beating the world’s best skier by .01 on Monday.
Aerni became the third host-nation gold medalist in six races so far at worlds, edging World Cup overall champion Marcel Hirscher of Austria after downhill and slalom runs in St. Moritz. The unheralded Aerni was the last of four Swiss named to the super combined roster Sunday night.
Another Swiss, Mauro Caviezel, earned bronze, .06 behind, after missing all of the 2015-16 season due to injuries.
There are still five races left at worlds, but the Swiss already have their best medal haul in 26 years, since the tail end of their dominant era of the likes of Vreni Schneider and Pirmin Zurbriggen.
The top American was Bryce Bennett in 11th. The U.S. men haven’t had a top-10 in three worlds races so far.
Aerni, 23, was a complete surprise, the first Olympic or world champion without a World Cup podium to his name since 2007. He repeated the feat of Hirscher of two years ago, placing 30th in the morning downhill run and running first in the afternoon slalom en route to gold.
“I was really nervous the last 45 minutes waiting for everyone to finish,” said Aerni, who was 2.61 seconds behind after the downhill but 1.6 seconds faster than everyone in the slalom except Hirscher, who was .32 slower. “I could only watch and hope as the others came down. I knew my slalom run was good, but with the combined you never know what will happen. It was definitely a long wait until I realized I had the gold medal.”
Aerni’s best World Cup finish is fifth. He previously raced once at the Olympics and once at worlds, failing to finish each run.
Hirscher said he raced Monday after spending the previous two days sick in bed, according to SkiRacing.com.
“It is pretty impressive to myself that I am on the podium in this super combined,” he said, according to the report. “It was a little bit nerve-wracking if you see crossing the finish line one hundredth of a second behind.”
Like Aerni, Caviezel came in with a best World Cup finish of fifth and no prior Olympic or worlds medals.
The top three finishers overall also had the top three slalom times.
Pre-race favorite Alexis Pinturault of France was in decent position after the morning downhill, 1.46 seconds behind Austrian leader Romed Baumann, but uncharacteristically struggled in the slalom and wound up 10th. Pinturault remains the winningest men’s World Cup racer (19 victories) without an Olympic or world title. Baumann ended up 12th.
Earlier at worlds, Wendy Holdener won the women’s combined and Beat Feuz took the men’s downhill for Switzerland. The Swiss earned one world title total among the 2011, 2013 and 2015 Worlds.
The World Championships continue with the team event, a new Olympic event, on Tuesday at 6 a.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.