Hirscher wins gold in men’s combined
By GRAHAM DUNBAR
The Associated Press
JEONGSEON, South Korea — Marcel Hirscher won the men’s combined today, finally getting his Olympic gold medal.
The 28-year-old Austrian, one of skiing’s greatest racers, used his silky skills in the slalom leg of the event to rise from 12th place after the opening run of the downhill. Hirscher, a six-time overall World Cup champion, skied through a fierce cross wind to post the fastest time down the slalom slope.
His combined two-run time was 0.23 seconds faster than silver medalist Alexis Pinturault of France. Another Frenchman, Victor Muffat-Jeandet, took bronze, 1.02 behind Hirscher, after being 29th fastest in the opening downhill leg.
Hirscher crossed the finish line and briefly raised both his arms. He then skied directly out of the finish area with a business-like expression on his face to await Pinturault’s start two minutes later.
The fastest downhill racer in the early run, Thomas Dressen of Germany, dropped to ninth place, trailing Hirscher by 2.44 seconds. Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway did not even bother to race the slalom despite placing second in downhill.
Hirscher has won a record six overall World Cup titles as the season’s best all-round skier and four career world championship gold medals, including the combined in 2015. His 55 World Cup race wins is second on the all-time men’s list.
But he had taken only a silver medal — in slalom at the 2014 Sochi Games — from two previous Olympics. Hirscher was fifth in slalom at the 2010 Vancouver Games, and had fourth-place finishes in each giant slalom.
After the bonus of victory in combined, Hirscher looks certain to start as the favorite in his top two events of slalom and giant slalom, which be raced in nearby Yongpyong.
Today’s race showed yet again that slalom, not downhill, is the key to success in the combined event.
Many of the best downhillers failed to finish the race, finding the slalom gates they rarely race too much to handle. It did not help that a swirling wind was whipping up mini-twisters of snow.
The reigning Olympic downhill champion, Matthias Mayer of Austria, was in third place but crashed off the course and knocked over a television cameramen as he slid down the bumpy slope.
Many expect today’s race to be an Olympic farewell for combined, which has fallen out of favor with the rise in head-to-head parallel racing formats.
Combined was the original event at Alpine skiing’s Olympic debut in 1936. Traditionalists like the mix of skills, but racers are now so specialized that those good at one discipline tend not to be competitive at the other.
Hirscher almost never races World Cup downhills. Svindal, a two-time world champion in combined, has not skied a competitive slalom run in two years.