Giant slalom was the only gold medal Giacomo Bertagnolli was missing to make it a perfect sweep in the men’s vision impaired class at the 2019 World Championships.
The Italian skier was eager to make amends for this, but his chances almost vanished as he tested positive for COVID-19 shortly before his departure to the Lillehammer 2021 World Para Snow Sports Championships.
The infection meant that he could not defend his titles in the speed events. The elusive giant slalom gold, however, suddenly came within reach as he tested negative on Monday (17 January) while his rivals where competing in the super combined.
Bertagnolli and his guide Andrea Ravelli arrived in Norway late the following day after a 12-hour trip on their shared birthday.
Another 12 hours later, they competed in the giant slalom and won the race by 1.29 seconds.
“We are the best in the world!” an ecstatic Ravelli yelled after the race to summarise the rollercoaster experience.
“Yesterday was our birthday and today we are the world champions so it’s the best way to celebrate our birthdays,” Bertagnolli added.
“We arrived last night so we had no time to check the course, to try the skis. We just arrived here and we said, ‘OK, we have to race, we have to ski like always’, and then here we are with the gold medal.”
Austria’s Johannes Aigner picked up his second silver medal at Lillehammer 2021, while triple Lillehammer 2021 champion Hyacinthe Deleplace of France finished almost four seconds behind Bertagnolli, in third.
The conditions became increasingly hostile as the afternoon wore on with the sky darkening and snow falling on the course, significantly reducing visibility.
By the time the leaders of the men’s standing class, RPC’s Aleksei Bugaev and France’s Arthur Bauchet, got to the starting gates, it was hard to make out the skiers on the slopes.
Run 1 winner Bugaev saw his narrow lead of 0.19 seconds over super combined champion Bauchet shrink at the top part of the course as he struggled with the worsening conditions.
“The weather changed a lot before the two of us. A fair bit of fresh snow fell down, which slowed down the skis and there was head-on wind in the first part of the course,” Bugaev said. “I didn’t feel the speed and was not able to speed up enough and because of that I probably lost the first half of the second run.”
As he progressed, however, Bugaev regained his rhythm and cruised across the finish line 0.14 seconds ahead of Bauchet. The effort earned him his first gold at Lillehammer 2021 to follow on his two silver and bronze medals in the earlier races.
“I am very happy today to win the gold,” Bugaev said. “It was quite close and a very good, intense battle. It is very hard to compete with Arthur. Our battle depends a lot on what the course is like and what the slope is like. Today we both put on a fantastic show and I’m happy that we had a very competitive race that I think was interesting for the viewers.”
The defending champion Bauchet settled for the silver medal, while Switzerland’s Theo Gmuer jumped from seventh place to third thanks to a stellar second run.
“It’s cool,” Bugaev added about overtaking his long-time rival Bauchet. “He wins more often and I get very disheartened that I have few chances to show all that I can do on simple slopes, on simple courses.”
While Bugaev managed to stay composed to maintain his lead after Run 2, it was a different kind of ending for Dutch sit skier Jeroen Kampschreur.
The run 1 leader and defending giant slalom champion was leading the second run of the men’s sitting race when he lost control and crashed at the start of the bottom section.
His premature exit handed Norway’s Jesper Pedersen his second gold on the home slopes. A defending Paralympic champion in giant slalom, Pedersen also won the downhill race in Lillehammer and collected silver medals in the super-G and super combined.
Pedersen’s second run was the fastest of the group to give him a combined lead of almost seven seconds. Content with this result, the home favourite gave several nods of approval while looking up at the leaderboard after his final run.
Igor Sikorski picked up his first medal at Lillehammer 2021, a silver. The Polish sit skier has now won a medal at three consecutive World Championships.
USA’s Andrew Kurka picked up a bronze to add to his earlier bronze in the downhill.
The Para alpine races of the Lillehammer 2021 World Para Snow Sports Championships continue with the women’s giant slalom on Thursday (20 January).
The Lillehammer 2021 World Championships is streamed live on the World Para Snow Sports Facebook page and the Para alpine skiing website.
Pictures for editorial purposes are available on Flickr.