REGAINING his health from a series of injuries and falls, German skier Felix Neureuther announced himself as a medal contender for the Sochi Olympics by edging first-run leader Marcel Hirscher to win a World Cup slalom last night.
Then Neureuther used the spotlight to announce his opposition to Russia's human rights record and a recent law banning gay "propaganda" in the Olympic host country. He also criticised the choice of Pyeongchang, South Korea, to host the 2018 Winter Games.
Neureuther is from the well-known Alpine resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. He is the son of 1976 Olympic champion Rosi Mittermaier and Christian Neureuther, a six-time winner on the World Cup circuit.
The younger Neureuther now also has six career wins. And this victory was a major achievement considering what he's gone through over the past year.
Neureuther had ankle surgery in June and was off skis until the end of September. Then he tumbled head over heels during the second run of a race in Levi, Finland, in November and hurt his knee.
Neureuther had another crash while training in Alta Badia last month, dislocating his thumb and hurting his back.
"Now I'm healthy," he said. "But I still have some big problems with my thumb. This will take some more weeks. I hope when there is the slalom in Sochi it will be good."
The Sochi Games start on February 7 and the men's slalom is on February 22.
Neureuther said that he would not make any protests when in Sochi.
Trailing by just 0.01 after the opening run, Neureuther attacked from start to finish in his second trip down the Stelvio course for a two-leg combined time of 1 minute, 59.75 seconds.
"I was really pushing hard," he said.
Hirscher, the two-time defending overall World Cup winner from Austria, finished second, 0.36 seconds behind, and Manfred Moelgg of Italy moved up from sixth after the opening run to place third, 0.65 back.
"It's a little long and it's very turny but it's not a very challenging course," Hirscher said. "The terrain is too easy to create big gaps."
Moelgg qualified for Italy's Olympic team with his first podium of the season.
"This was a very important podium," he said. "Today I really attacked how I wanted to."
While clearly disappointed not to win, Hirscher still gained ground on overall leader Aksel Lund Svindal, who doesn't often race slalom and sat this race out. Svindal's lead over Hirscher was cut from 195 to 115 points.
The men's circuit now goes to Adelboden, Switzerland, for a giant slalom and slalom next weekend.