Chloe Kim wins gold with historic performance

Chloe Kim wins gold with historic performance
Marcel Hirscher dominates tough course for gold, silencing 9 million Austrians
nPYEONGCHANG, South Korea — At the World Cup races late last month, Marcel Hirscher of Austria told his longtime American rival Ted Ligety that he was planning to skip the Alpine combined event at the Winter Olympics.

Ligety laughed at Hirscher and told him he would see him at the race’s starting gate.

Hirscher, ski racing’s most dominant athlete since 2011, has had a tangled relationship with the Olympics. For all his many accomplishments, which include a record six consecutive World Cup overall titles and 55 World Cup victories, an Olympic gold medal had eluded him, an outcome that vexed him after two previous Olympic appearances.

It had gotten to the point that Hirscher preferred to make jokes about whether he would ever win a gold medal.

Second out in the slalom as a consequence, the 28-year-old judged his run on the icy slope perfectly and crossed the line in 46.97 seconds, only a hundredth of a second outside the time Hirscher clocked for gold.

“We have enough Olympic champions from Austria,” Hirscher said with a shrug of his shoulders when asked late last season about his expectations for the 2018 Games.

Olympic ski champ Hirscher no longer must hear The Question

But there is now one more Austrian Alpine Olympic champion and he is most certainly glad he showed up for the first Alpine event of the Pyeongchang Games.

While Pinturault had been one of the favorites at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre, the chances of Muffat-Jeandet landing a medal had looked dead and buried when he recorded the 29th fastest time in the downhill run.

“I have my big gold medal,” Hirscher said with a wide grin late Tuesday after defeating Alexis Pinturault of France by 0.23 of a second in the Alpine combined, which includes one run of downhill and one run of slalom. Victor Muffat-Jeandet, Pintaurault’s teammate, won the bronze medal.

Alpine skiing: France waits 70 years for medal and two come along

Hey! Sam Manchester here, deputy sports editor. Let me be your personal guide to the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang.

Asked how often he had been questioned about whether he would ever win at the Olympics, Hirscher answered, “I mean, every day, but now it’s over.”

“In skiing, you have to do two full runs and with guys like Pinturault and Hirscher, if you do one bad run, it’s not enough for the podium.”

Hirscher’s victory came on a windblown day when he unexpectedly finished in 12th place in the morning downhill portion, which is not his strength. His specialty is the slalom and giant slalom events. But the gusting conditions had forced officials to shorten the downhill course, which benefited Hirscher because the downhill specialists did not have as long a distance to build a bigger lead on those that are more accomplished at slalom.

France hadn’t had a had a top-three finish in a men’s Olympic combined race in 70 years, let alone a pair of medals on the same afternoon. Might never happen again, either: There is a movement afoot to drop the combined from the Olympic schedule because International Ski Federation, race organizers and broadcasters instead want more short, TV-friendly parallel racing events where skiers go down the piste two at a time, head-to-head.

Then, in the afternoon slalom stage, Hirscher was at his finest, vastly outperforming the field in the final 150 yards, where the racecourse became considerably steeper.

So Hirscher went into the downhill merely hoping to be within 3 seconds of the lead going into the slalom; he wound up less than 1½ seconds behind, the beneficiary of catching a lull in swirling winds. The same gusts that had led to the postponement of the first two races on the Alpine schedule. Others found themselves dealing with headwinds or blasts of air that hit them from the side.
Marcel Hirscher dominates tough course for gold, silencing 9 million Austrians
Marcel Hirscher dominates tough course for gold, silencing 9 million Austrians

And so the gap in Hirscher’s splendid racing résumé was filled, alleviating much of the pressure Hirscher was feeling at these Olympics, which he has called his last. Though just 28 years old, he has said he does not expect to be racing by 2022. But he could now win three gold medals at Pyeongchang.

But Hirscher can handle that sort of thing better than anyone. Temperatures around zero and winds approaching 50 mph (75 kph) left the snow hard and dry, more like what’s found in Colorado than Austria. But because he packs a lot of strength into his 5-foot-8 (1.73-meter) frame, he can change direction quickly to recover from mistakes.
Marcel Hirscher of Austria Grabs Elusive Gold Medal
Marcel Hirscher of Austria Grabs Elusive Gold Medal

Hirscher’s victory was also the 115th Olympic Alpine medal for an Austrian skier, the most by any nation in any sport at the Winter Games.

The 28-year-old Austrian used a sublime slalom run on an icy course to rise from 12th after the opening downhill in the two-run competition and added that Winter Games triumph to a substantial collection of accolades. He already owned a record six consecutive overall World Cup titles and four individual world championship golds.
Marcel Hirscher of Austria Grabs Elusive Gold Medal
Marcel Hirscher of Austria Grabs Elusive Gold Medal

Ligety, a two-time Olympic champion who once dominated Hirscher in the giant slalom, was fifth on Tuesday, a notable result given that injuries have limited his ability to race in the last two seasons. Ligety seemed pleased to see his rival realize a milestone achievement.

“His mental ability is second to none in this sport. You often see so many guys who are fast in training and can’t figure it out in a race. He’s the exact opposite,” Ligety said. “You can train with him and beat him and you’re all super-confident. Then the next day, he goes and wins a race by a lot.”

“He didn’t need it for people to know what an amazing skier he is,” Ligety said. “But, of course, you want to win at every level.”

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JEONGSEON, South Korea (AP) — Eventually, The Question began to bother Marcel Hirscher.

Mission accomplished, says happy Hirscher

It wasn’t so much the actual content, which was always some variation of: “Do you need an Olympic gold medal to validate your otherwise-perfect skiing career?” He was certain he knew the answer: “No.” It was more the incessant echo of it, over and over.

How often did Hirscher hear The Question? “Ev-e-ry day,” he said. This was offered with a smile Tuesday, because that line of inquiry will never again arise. As of the Alpine combined event at the Pyeongchang Games, Hirscher is, at long last, an Olympic champion.

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The 28-year-old Austrian used a sublime slalom run on an icy course to rise from 12th after the opening downhill in the two-run competition and added that Winter Games triumph to a substantial collection of accolades. He already owned a record six consecutive overall World Cup titles and four individual world championship golds.

“I’m super happy, because now this stupid question has gone away,” Hirscher said, before adding with gusto, “Now The Question is Zzzzzzztt. Deleted.”

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Hirscher finished in 2 minutes, 6.52 seconds, which made him 0.23 seconds faster than silver medalist Alexis Pinturault of France. Another Frenchman, Victor Muffat-Jeandet, was third, more than a full second behind Hirscher.

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France hadn’t had a had a top-three finish in a men’s Olympic combined race in 70 years, let alone a pair of medals on the same afternoon. Might never happen again, either: There is a movement afoot to drop the combined from the Olympic schedule because International Ski Federation, race organizers and broadcasters instead want more short, TV-friendly parallel racing events where skiers go down the piste two at a time, head-to-head.

“I’m disappointed to see it go away,” said Sasha Rearick, head coach of the U.S. men’s Alpine team, expressing an opinion voiced by several others. “It’s been a good event for us for many reasons. It’s the one thing that brings the tech and the speed together.”

Gold at last as Austria's Hirscher bags combined title
Gold at last as Austria’s Hirscher bags combined title

Fitting, then, that a race considered the greatest test of versatility in a sport of increasing specialization was how Hirscher finally got his gold.

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Alpine skiing – Dressen fastest, Hirscher well placed in combined

As recently as two weeks ago, he said, he wasn’t even sure whether it was worth entering the combined, in part because it would steal training time away from his better events and also because he hadn’t been on downhill skis in a year.

So Hirscher went into the downhill merely hoping to be within 3 seconds of the lead going into the slalom; he wound up less than 1½ seconds behind, the beneficiary of catching a lull in swirling winds. The same gusts that had led to the postponement of the first two races on the Alpine schedule. Others found themselves dealing with headwinds or blasts of air that hit them from the side.

“He got lucky this morning with the wind,” Rearick said. “But his second run, in the slalom, I mean, he had the adversity there. The wind was blowing hard. You couldn’t see the snow. In slalom, when you can’t see your feet, it’s really tough.”

But Hirscher can handle that sort of thing better than anyone. Temperatures around zero and winds approaching 50 mph (75 kph) left the snow hard and dry, more like what’s found in Colorado than Austria. But because he packs a lot of strength into his 5-foot-8 (1.73-meter) frame, he can change direction quickly to recover from mistakes.

Two-time Olympic champion Ted Ligety of the U.S., fifth Tuesday, lauded another Hirscher trait.

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“His mental ability is second to none in this sport. You often see so many guys who are fast in training and can’t figure it out in a race. He’s the exact opposite,” Ligety said. “You can train with him and beat him and you’re all super-confident. Then the next day, he goes and wins a race by a lot.”

Hirscher has dominated the week-in, week-out World Cup circuit, accumulating 55 race wins, second among men only to Ingemar Stenmark’s 86. He has nine world championship medals. This is his third Olympics, but the only previous medal was a slalom silver in 2014.

And while Hirscher himself has insisted all along he did not need to burnish his legacy, he sure did look pleased when he leapt atop the podium, then pumped both arms overhead, during a flower ceremony.

There could be more to come: Hirscher will be favored in the slalom and giant slalom.

“He is the greatest skier ever, and he can break all the records,” Pinturault said. “It just depends how long he wants to continue.”

No matter how long Hirscher does continue, he’ll never again have to hear The Question.

AP Sports Writers Graham Dunbar and Pat Graham contributed to this report.


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