The Slalom race of the FIS Alpine World Cup in Gurgl, Austria, was overshadowed by the actions of climate activists, who disrupted run 2 of the race. A group of eight activists from the group “Letzte Generation” (Engl. “Last Generation”) rushed into the finish area at the Austrian ski resort and threw an orange/brown substance on the hard-packed snow.
A Slalom race is held in two runs, with the top 30 skiers qualifying from the first run for the second run. The combined time of both runs counts, and the second run is held in reverse order, meaning the fastest skier from the first run will go last. The race in Gurgl had only the top five athletes left when the race was suddenly interrupted by the first activist running into the fenced-off area, followed by the next climate activist, who promptly slipped and fell on the hard, icy race course. A total of eight climate activists unfurled their banners, calling the Austrian government to immediate action on climate change laws, while the crowd in Gurgl erupted into boos.
Some members of international race teams ran into the finish area to remove the protesters and were quickly aided by the Austrian police. Henrik Kristoffersen from Norway started a shouting match with one of the protesters. His teammate Alexander Steen Olsen was next to go, and the Norwegian tech specialist knew that this disruption could endanger Steen Olsen’s hunt for a spot on the podium. The clearly enraged Kristoffersen was restrained by course officials, Team Austria members, and police in order to de-escalate the situation. Allegedly the Norwegian skier threw a snowball at a protester, which was not captured on camera, however, the defending Slalom champion could be heard swearing at the climate activists.
As it was feared that the substance thrown onto the finish area might be sand, the race was halted for quite a while as course officials attempted to scrape the substance off the snow. When it was established it was just food coloring, the race commenced. Out of the five fastest men from the first run, only Austria’s Manuel Feller had a good second run, winning the Slalom race with a combined time of 1:47:23. None of the other top five from the first run placed in the top five with their combined run.
The race at Gurgl saw a triple Austrian podium with Manuel Feller in first, Marco Schwarz in second place and Michael Matt in third.
“Today’s situation during the second round will divide a lot of opinions, but I am one to take action if I feel injustice. There is no doubt that the climate is a huge issue, and I don’t want to oppress that. However, disruption of a cultural event will never be the time or place. For most athletes, this is their everything. At least four racers got their race ruined today, and that is injustice in my eyes.”
— Henrik Kristoffersen
While the climate activists deny that they ‘ruined’ the race, it is shocking that only one of the last five racers ended up on the podium. Of course, anything can happen on your second run, but considering that these men were the five fastest from the first run, you would have anticipated a second run time that would have at least been in the top 15. However, Steen Olsen’s second run was the second worst second run of the day (26th), Loic Meillard recorded a DNF, Noel Clement had the third worst second run (25th), and Fabio Gstrein came in 21st. Even winner Manuel Feller only had the 18th fastest time on the second run, but combined, it was still enough to win first place. His lead of 0.94 seconds, however, was reduced to 0.23 seconds ahead of teammate Marco Schwarz and a second ahead of teammate Michael Matt.
Reactions following the race on social media were mixed, with some accusing Kristoffersen of violently attacking people (which he evidently did not) and calling his actions ‘embarrassing,’ ‘shocking,’ or ‘childish.’ Many other users, as well as the entire ski community, are standing firmly behind the Norwegian, applauding his actions and calling him ‘the Norwegian Guardian.’