Alpine Skiing

Austria's Marcel Hirscher captures 1st Olympic gold in alpine combined

Marcel Hirscher of Austria has won the men's alpine combined event, the first career Olympic gold medal for one of skiing's greats. Hirscher used his elite skills in the slalom leg to rise from 12th place after the opening run of downhill.

Veteran vaults from 12th to top in slalom run

Marcel Hirscher of Austria celebrates after winning his first Olympic gold in the alpine combined event. ( Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

By Graham Dunbar, The Associated Press

Marcel Hirscher won the men's combined on Tuesday in Pyeongchang, South Korea, 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 favourite in his top two events of slalom and giant slalom, which be raced in nearby Yongpyong.

Toronto's Crawford places 20th

Toronto's James Crawford was the top Canadian, finishing 20th in the event. Broderick Thompson of Whistler, B.C., was 23rd and Benjamin Thomsen of Invermere, B.C., didn't compete in the slalom portion despite posting the top Canadian time in the downhill.

Manuel Osborne-Paradis missed the second gate in the downhill and cruised down the rest of the course. The veteran skier from Invermere, B.C., skier didn't finish his run, using the race as an opportunity to get a sneak preview of the course for the upcoming men's downhill event.

VIDEO | Manuel Osborne-Paradis scopes out downhill course

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Swirling wind was again a factor despite blue skies and sunshine in Jeongseon, where the men's downhill race was postponed on Sunday. The race-time temperature was minus-11 degrees Celsius.

Gusts higher up the mountain forced organizers to lower the downhill start, cutting about 20 seconds of skiing from the downhill portion of the combined. Racers topped 120 km/h but were guided to a safer line cresting the jumps.

The end of alpine combined?

Tuesday'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 Tuesday's race to be an Olympic farewell for combined, which has fallen out of favour 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.

With files from CBC Sports