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SPORTS

Greek-American Skier Ginni is Greece’s 1st Big Winter Sport Medalist

February 19, 2023

COURCHEVEL, France — AJ Ginnis’ long journey to skiing glory began on the relatively obscure slopes of Mount Parnassus north of Athens, took him briefly to the Austrian Alps as a teenager, then over to Vermont and eventually a spot on the U.S. ski team.

Six knee surgeries later — three ACLs, one MCL plus operations to repair “a bunch of meniscus and cartilage damage” — Ginnis is now a member of the Greek team and his second-place finish in slalom at the Alpine skiing world championships on Sunday earned Greece its first major medal in a Winter Olympic sport.

“You put Greece on the map,” Johan Eliasch, president of the International Ski and Snowboard Federation, told Ginnis before placing the silver medal around the skier’s neck at the awards ceremony to conclude the final event at worlds.

When the U.S. ski team disbanded its men’s slalom team in 2018 as Ginnis struggled with his injuries, the skier was inspired by Greek tennis players Stefanos Tsitsipas and Maria Sakkari to start competing for his birth nation.

“They opened a door into a new sport,” Ginnis said. “So whether it’s skiing or the next sport that starts taking off in Greece, I just hope (my medal) acts as an inspiration.”

Ginnis stood second after the opening run and held his position through deep ruts that constantly threatened to knock him off course to finish 0.20 seconds behind Norwegian winner Henrik Kristoffersen.

Greece’s Aj Ginnis celebrates taking the silver medal in the men’s World Championship slalom, in Courchevel, France, Sunday Feb. 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Marco Trovati)

Ginnis already became the first skier from Greece on a World Cup podium when he finished second in the last slalom before worlds.

“It’s just a dream, the last two weeks. History for Greece, best moment in my career,” Ginnis said. “I can’t believe it. I don’t know what happened. During the (second) run I thought it was not enough and I just gave everything in the last gates.”

After the first run, Ginnis said he had no pressure.

“I ski for Greece, so I ski free,” he said, adding with a laugh that he prayed to “all 12” Greek gods before the race.

Kristoffersen posted the fastest-second run time and improved from 16th position after the opening run. Alex Vinatzer finished 0.38 behind to take bronze and earn the Italian men their first medal at these worlds.

First-run leader Manuel Feller of Austria dropped to seventh.

Ginnis was born in Greece and learned to ski at Mount Parnassus, a 2 ½-hour drive from Athens. At 12 he moved to Austria with his father, a ski instructor who ran a ski shop near the Parnassos Ski Center, then on to the United States and competed for the U.S. at the 2017 worlds.

He’s now coached by two friends, Sandy Vietz and Gaby Coulet, who roomed together at the University of Vermont.

Greece’s Aj Ginnis shows the silver medal of the men’s World Championship slalom, in Courchevel, France, Sunday Feb. 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Marco Trovati)

“He went to chase his dream for Greece after so many injuries and he never let go,” Coulet said. “He’s a role model of perseverance and also sportsmanship.”

Ginnis doesn’t blame the U.S. team for letting him go.

“All credit to them. They did develop me. I think for me it was like a will of wanting to ski for my home country because I did grow up there and then for them, I was a really injured athlete,” said Ginnis, who now competes with braces on both knees under his racing suit.

“So I don’t blame them at all for cutting the team when they did. It sure made things harder for me. But, hey, I’m here … so I’m not complaining.”

American skier Luke Winters, one of Ginnis’ former teammates, was impressed.

“He’s always had the speed. It’s good to see him consistently put it in there,” Winters said. “It’s just how the sport goes. All of a sudden, you figure it out and some people can go right to the top.”

Kristoffersen earned his econd world title after winning gold in giant slalom four years ago. He became the 10th man to win both world titles in the tech disciplines.

“That’s a prestigious list to be on,” Kristoffersen said.

Kristoffersen switched his equipment supplier in the offseason, joining the ski brand founded by his former rival and record-eight time overall champion Marcel Hirscher, who retired in 2019.

With Feller losing his first-run lead, Austria was left without a gold medal for the first time in 36 years at worlds — since Crans Montana in 1987 — ahead of hosting the next worlds in Saalbach-Hinterglemm in 2025.

Lucas Braathen shared second position with Ginnis after the opening run but dropped to seventh in a tie with Feller.

Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen, center, winner of the men’s World Championship slalom, celebrates with silver medal’s winner Greece’s Aj Ginnis, left, and bronze medallist Italy’s Alex Vinatzer in Courchevel, France, Sunday Feb. 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)

Braathen, who leads the season-long World Cup slalom standings, competed less than three weeks after he underwent surgery for appendicitis.

Olympic champion Clement Noel missed the podium by three-hundredths in fourth place, and defending champion Sebastian Foss-Solevaag of Norway finished 19th.

Switzerland led the final medals table with three golds and seven medals in total, ahead of Norway with two golds and nine medals overall.

The U.S. team also had two gold medals, from the team event and from Mikaela Shiffrin’s giant slalom victory.

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