ROSA KHUTOR, Russia — Sandro Viletta’s season has been so poor until now that he is not competing in another race at the Sochi Olympics after his surprise super-combined gold on Friday.
The Swiss will not even take part in the super-G, the only event in which he has won a World Cup race.
The 28-year-old came out of nowhere to produce what he said was “his perfect slalom” and beat favorites like Ted Ligety, Vancouver gold medallist Bode Miller and France’s Alexis Pinturault. Miller is a 1996 Carrabassett Valley Academy graduate.
“I’m going home. The season was not so good until now, so I’m not racing the super-G,” Viletta told reporters with a beaming smile on his face.
“It’s good now of course,” he added quietly and modestly. “I thought next year would be my year because my back has been getting better but that it could be this year, that’s unbelievable. It only got better three, four months ago.”
None of his rivals thought Viletta would be a serious challenger, and that did not change when he clocked only the 14th fastest time in the downhill leg.
Little known to many spectators, head coach Walter Hlebayna described Viletta as “a quiet guy, focused and good to work with”.
“I knew we had four strong athletes and everyone could have done it,” Hlebayna said.
“I knew we could win a medal if we’re lucky. Today luck was on our side, especially on Sandro’s side.”
Viletta, whose single World Cup victory came in the super-G in Beaver Creek in 2011, has struggled with a herniated disc for three years, reducing him to training only roughly a third of his team mates’ workload.
But the Swiss, who says he actually likes the slushy snow many of his competitors have been complaining about, now has a new therapist, who has helped him return to being pain free.
“The last three years have been really tough,” he said. “I couldn’t do a lot of what the others were doing, including on the fitness levels. My performance kept on falling.
“But I always knew I could ski fast and that belief kept me going.”
Asked whether he had thought of retiring because of his injury and lack of success since Beaver Creek, Viletta pointed to the 2017 world championships near his home in St. Moritz.
“I was hoping to be fit for that,” he said.
Viletta became the first Swiss to win the super combined title at an Olympic Games. He also became one of three Swiss medallists on Friday from the minority in the country who speak Romansch, a 2,000 year-old language native to Graubuenden, the alpine canton famous for exclusive ski resorts such as St. Moritz.
Selina Gasparin, one of three sisters competing in biathlon events, took second place in the 15km individual race and Dario Cologna claimed his second gold medal of the Games with a commanding victory in the 15km classic cross-country race.
Spoken by roughly half a percent of Switzerland’s 8 million population, Romansch is in danger of disappearing as people leave remote mountain villages for city jobs.
“It’s a big thing. We’re of course a very snow-related region, so it’s great that we’re winning,” said Viletta, who spoke only Romansch at school until sixth grade.