Austrian ace Marcel Hirscher's long wait for Olympic gold ended yesterday when he produced a brilliant slalom run to storm to a dominant victory in the men's alpine combined at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea. Alexis Pinturault claimed silver for France with his team-mate Victor Muffat-Jeandet taking an astonishing bronze after finishing 29th fastest in the opening downhill.
Hirscher, 28, has been an outstanding skier in the World Cup in recent years, with his 55 career wins the bedrock of a startling six consecutive overall crystal globes. Already guaranteed to go down in alpine history as one of the best skiers of all time, Hirscher said he was after an "amazing" Olympic gold to cap his career, his previous best a slalom silver from Sochi four years ago. Hirscher admitted he thought about Olympic glory "every day." "Now it is over, and this is a positive thing!" he said.
The racer played down his medal hopes in the combined following a couple of mediocre downhill training runs. "We had no expectations for this combined," he said. "We made a decision to start here, which was a high risk decision because [Norwegian slalom rival] Henrik Kristoffersen has already had five days' training slalom. What if I'd finished 20th, people would be asking whether that was the right decision or not."
There was to be no messing around on the downhill course shortened because of blustery winds, however, and the canny Austrian took full advantage of the abbreviated run to finish an impressive 12th fastest, 1.32 seconds off German Thomas Dressen's lead time. "I was in the top 30 which shows we made the right decision ... because if you're in the top 30 you have a real chance for a medal," Hirscher said.
Come the slalom, a discipline in which he has won six times this season on the World Cup circuit, Austria's favorite sporting son stepped up to the gate and promptly delivered the fastest time of 45.96 seconds. It was an aggressive yet measured piece of skiing that gave him a combined time of 2 minutes 6.52 seconds, 0.23 seconds ahead of Pinturault, with Muffat-Jeandet at 1.02 seconds.
"I was the favorite after the downhill," said Pinturault, who was 10th fastest in the speed event and started his slalom with a 0.28 second lead over Hirscher. "But after what Marcel has shown since the start of the season, especially in slalom, it was very tough for me to be able to come close. I'm just very happy," said Pinturault, winner of Bormio's World Cup combined in December. "He was just stronger than me today." Muffat-Jeandet laid down a slalom run just one-hundredth of a second slower than Hirscher, paying the price for a big mistake on the top third of the downhill. "I was so annoyed by the downhill," he said. "But at the end of the day I stayed very focused. I always believed in it."
It was France's first podium showing in the combined since Henri Oreiller took a gold and James Couttet a bronze in 1948.
Austrian slalom specialist Marco Schwarz was fourth, one place ahead of American Ted Ligety, who was seeking a third Olympic gold medal having won the combined back in Torino in 2006. The Norwegian threat petered out disappointingly despite two-time former world combined champion Aksel Lund Svindal finishing second fastest in the downhill. Svindal, 35, was a non-starter in the slalom, while teammate Kjetil Jansrud, fourth fastest in the downhill, eventually came in seventh, 2.15 seconds off the pace and one place behind a third Frenchman, Thomas Mermillod Blondin.
Among the top eight, Austrian pair Vincent Kriechmayr and reigning Olympic downhill champion Matthias Mayer, along with Italian duo Dominik Paris and Peter Fill, all failed to finish the slalom course.