Super G is short for Super Giant Slalom and is an alpine skiing event combining downhill skiing with navigation through slalom courses. The sport first become popular in the 1970s, and premiered as a World Cup event in 1982. It requires skill in both downhill skiing and slalom, and is perhaps one of the most intense alpine skiing contests. Significant speed and accuracy in turns are important, since missing a turn around a gate, made of two poles, immediately disqualifies the racers.
There are some differences between Super G and slalom. The angle of a slalom course is less severe than that of downhill. Further, skiers must ski part of the race in a tucked or downhill position in order to increase speed. Gates are farther apart since the higher speeds means gates too close together would be missed. Slalom skiers are allowed two runs with a combined score, while Super G races are scored based on one run only. There are additionally fewer gates: usually about 35 for men and 30 for women, as opposed to up to 70 gates for men, and 55 gates for women in traditional slalom.
Super G also has differences from downhill. Though the race is on a downhill course, this is shortened for the event. Skiing in tucked position at all times is impossible to navigate turns appropriately, so speeds tend to be slower. As in slalom, skiers may inspect but may not take practice runs of the course prior to any competition.
Expert skiers from Europe, with Hermann Maier of Austria considered by many to be the best, quickest and most accurate skier who has ever attempted the event, have dominated the sport of Super G. Maier’s skiing has garnered an Olympic gold medal, a gold medal at the World competition, and an impressive 23 wins at the World Cup.
The most expert skiers, like Maier, Peter Muller, and Kjetil Andre Aamodt, who has won three Olympic Super G gold medals, ski at speeds that are almost incomprehensible when the added factor of getting around gates is applied. It’s not unusual for a practiced athlete in this sport to reach speeds of 55- 60 mph (88.51-96.56 kph) as they fly down the hills. This is still slower than downhill speeds, which can approach over 90 mph (144.84 kph).
Unlike many other sports where only the young, those in their teens or early twenties, remain strong enough to win, there are many Super G skiers that have remained in the sport for numerous years. Aamodt won his most recent gold medal at the age of 35 at the 2006 Winter Olympics.