Slalom master Hirscher prevails Sunday

Melanie Wong
Marcel Hirscher, of Austria, looks ahead to his next gate while running the slalom course of the men's combined during the 2015FIS Alpine World Ski Championships on Sunday at Beaver Creek. Hirscher finished in first place with a combined time of 2 minutes, 36.10 seconds.
Justin Q. McCarty | Special to the Daily |

BEAVER CREEK — Austrian Marcel Hirscher proved that finesse and technique can overcome pure speed on Sunday at the men’s combined race at the FIS Alpine World Championships in Beaver Creek, bouncing back from a 3.16-second deficit to take home a gold medal.

In a surprise finish, downhill specialist Kjetil Jansrud, of Norway, won silver, showing that even a speed giant could carve some tight turns. American favorite Ted Ligety also overcame a nearly three-second deficit from the downhill with a fast slalom run that snagged him the bronze.

At the alpine combined — spectators saw the best of both the downhill and slalom worlds. They also saw the worst — or at least the very rusty — as evidenced by the number of skiers who did not finish the race, or lost leads of several seconds in between the slalom gates.

The morning’s downhill run on the Birds of Prey course tested the technical skiers and brought several surprises, including an early lead by American Jared Goldberg, who sat in third place after the downhill portion. At the beginning of the slalom, the title seemed up for grabs, with the better slalom skiers such as Hirscher and Ligety far behind on time.

“I skied horrible,” Ligety said after the downhill run. “I really didn’t make any mistakes — I just skied horrible.”

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Of course, both Ligety and Hirscher went on to more than make up that lost time in the slalom, and the downhill specialists struggled to keep up as the course deteriorated under the hot sun for the later skiers. Hirscher, who finished just behind Ligety on the downhill, took a different attitude toward his time deficit. He nearly didn’t enter the alpine combined race after he trailed the leaders by margins of 5 seconds during downhill training.

“We were not sure if it made sense for me to start the super combined, but in the end, my technicians made an awesome set up, and I skied 2 seconds faster than in the training runs,” he said. “You have to always push as hard as you can and take your chances, and I took my chances.”

Prime position for Hirscher

Hirscher, who is the three-time defending World Cup slalom champion, finished 30th after the downhill, a spot that put him into the best starting position for the slalom portion — first. (In alpine combined, after the first run the top 30 racers go in reverse order for the slalom.)

The prime spot, which became more of an advantage as the warm afternoon sun softened the slalom course for later competitors, was partially due to the fact that the Czech Republic’s Ondrej Bank was disqualified and unable to start the slalom portion. Bank crashed out dramatically in the final jump of the downhill, suffering a concussion, facial lacerations and leg contusions. He was disqualified for missing a final gate, bumping Hirscher up a spot in the standings.

With the advantageous starting spot, Hirscher showed he was the reigning champion, only making one notable mistake at the beginning of the course.

“Today, I don’t think I would have won with bib No. 31 — no,” he said. “But you always need luck to be in the first position.”

Ligety had a near miss as well, nearly missing a gate and sliding his knuckles on the snow to stay upright. He called the bronze a surprise, and like Hirscher, attributed his podium finish the luck of being one of the first racers to ski down the slalom course.

“It was just dumb luck and good strategy that (Hirscher and I) started first. It was so hot, and Jansrud probably lost four-tenths on the bottom part just because it was so sticky,” he said. “If I was half a second faster in the downhill, I don’t think I would have gotten a medal at all, because I wouldn’t have gone in the beginning. I think it cost you a huge difference starting first and 31st. The course was really rutted. With that much sun on it, it was just like a suction cup.”

First medal for Norway

Jansrud’s silver was the first medal of the World Championships for the Norwegians this year, as well as the first ever World Championships medal for Jansrud himself.

“It’s my first World Championship medal, which I rate very high,” he said. “Winning feels like winning a silver medal in a discipline where I was an outsider at best. It feels way better getting on the plane with a medal than without a medal.”

Jansrud finished first in the downhill portion, a welcome redemption after he fell short of expectations on Saturday’s downhill race.

“Having a bad day and being able to kick back today means that my skiing shape is OK, I didn’t lose it overnight,” he said. “There are still some races left in the World Cup, so that’s a good thing.”

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