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(photo credit: Peter Szellos)
The last day of the alpine skiing events was a real celebration. The excitement of the last moments of the Olympics was felt everywhere, as thousands of fans filled the small ski resort of Sestriere, enjoying food, music and the men's slalom competition.
Even the athletes themselves blended with the crowd between the first and the second run. Michael Renzhin, the only Israeli athlete still in Turin - the two ice dance teams left for the US on Friday - completed his last competition and finished in 38th place. His total time after the two runs - two minutes and 0.73 seconds - was 17.59 seconds more than the gold-medal winner, Benjamin Raich of Austria, who also won the giant slalom title.
"I said it before, my goal was to be inside the top 30," Renzhin said after the race, which was held in difficult conditions with snow falling all day long. "So that's pretty close, I guess it was alright. I could have gone faster in my second run.
"I'm still happy with it because many people didn't even finish the race as it was such a hard course. I managed to do it because I kept my concentration."
Renzhin wrapped a respectable performance for Israel's first Olympic skiing appearance, managing to finish both his races, something many skiers didn't do, and placing inside the top half of competitors in both competitions.
"I got the experience of skiing on hard courses here," he summarized his first Olympics, "and also the feeling of the kind of pressure there is on you in a competition like that."
Aside from Renzhin making personal and national history, the race itself provided a few surprises. Almost third of the competitors - 30 athletes, did not finish the first run. Among them were the Italian favorite for the gold medal, Giorgio Rocca, and American headline maker, Bode Miller, who will go back home without any Olympic medal.
Another American, Ted Ligety, who already won an alpine ski gold medal in the first week of the games, was disqualified. Finland's Kalle Palander who was in second place after the first run, didn't finish the second one, and made way for Austria to conquer the podium, with three medalists: Raich, won the gold, Reinfried Herbst with the silver and Reiner Schoenfelder with the bronze, edging Kentaro Minagawa of Japan and Sweden's Andre Myhrer by a mere three hundredths of a second.
The skiers have very little time to rest. After Saturday night's closing ceremonies most of them will return to the competition circuit. Renzhin himself will compete later this week in Slovakia.
He will also have the honor of carrying the Israeli flag during the closing ceremony. "I'm very excited about it," he smiled, "maybe even more than the actual competition. I've never done anything like that before."