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Viletta gives Swiss region its finest sports hour
Olympic champion Sandro Viletta gives Swiss region its finest sports hour at Sochi Games
Associated Press
2014-02-15 03:01 AM

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Switzerland (AP) -- Quietly and modestly, Sandro Viletta added some more Romansh to Valentine's Day.

The little-known Swiss skier capped an incredible day for the people of Graubuenden, a minority Romansh-speaking area of his country, by winning Olympic gold in the men's super-combined on Friday.

About an hour earlier, cross-country skier Dario Cologna won his third career Olympic title in the 15-kilometer classical event. Cologna is another of the 70,000 people who speak Switzerland's fourth and smallest officially recognized national language, which is derived from Latin.

"This situation is just fantastic," the 28-year-old Viletta said of Graubuenden's golden day. "We do represent the same region where we speak our own language, and for us this region is very special."

Although Cologna is a recognized star in Switzerland, even being voted the country's top sportsman in 2013 from a lineup that included tennis stars Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka, Viletta's success in Sochi was a surprise.

He finished just ahead of one the main favorites, Ivica Kostelic. The Croatian had to settle for super-combined silver for the third straight Olympics, the first Winter Olympian to complete that second-place triple in an individual event. Christof Innerhofer of Italy won an unexpected bronze.

But the talk on this Valentine's Day was about Viletta, who won his only event at the Sochi Games. And after his victory, he was asked about his background.

"Yes, I speak Romansh," Viletta said. "Until 10 years old I was speaking only that language."

His answer was spoken in German, though he could also have expressed himself in French and Italian, the other official Swiss tongues. And English, naturally.

Back at home, the Romansh-language Radio Grischa station reported that the church bells in Viletta's home village of La Punt rang for 30 minutes to celebrate his victory.

The gold may have come as a surprise in the Swiss mountain area bordering Italy, Austria and Liechtenstein, but not in the mountains above Sochi. At least not to defending champion Bode Miller, who placed sixth.

"He's one of the technical guys who skis hard and fast all the time," Miller said of Viletta, whose career was stalled by back pains soon after winning a World Cup super-G race two seasons ago in Beaver Creek, Colo.

"I'm surprised he wasn't faster in the downhill, honestly. He stuck a great, clean (slalom) run and that's all it takes," the American said.

In Graubuenden, skiing is the shared passion of villages and towns noted for farming and high-end tourism. La Punt is nestled a few miles (kilometers) from both St. Moritz and Davos, Cologna's home.

The region excels in the Winter Games, with Cologna and reigning Alpine giant slalom champion Carlo Janka also bringing home gold from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

"A little bit like me maybe," Janka said of Viletta's personality after placing eighth Friday. "Not the loudest maybe in the team but he has the right words at the right time. (Sandro's) a good guy and I'm very glad to see him at the top."

Even Kostelic, who acknowledged his disappointment at missing a first Olympic title yet again, was pleased for the new champion.

"I think I had a pretty good chance to win it but unfortunately Sandro had the very inspiring day," the 34-year-old Croatian said. "I think he deserved this victory today."

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