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02 December 2023

Hirscher fulfils expectations with slalom win


Austrian tyro Marcel Hirscher lived up to the expectations of the medal-hungry public in this ski-mad country by winning the men's world slalom in dramatic fashion on Sunday.

In what was a perfectly choreographed finish to the two-week World Ski Championships, Hirscher followed up his leading first run with a dramatic dash down the second in a tightly-fought competition.

The 23-year-old timed an aggregate of 1min 51.03sec, 0.42sec ahead of Germany's Felix Neureuther, with another Austrian, former two-time world champion Mario Matt, claiming bronze at 0.65sec.

Hirscher's victory handed Austria a first individual gold medal and the 40,000-strong roaring crowd packed around the cramped finish area welcomed their new champion in deafening, cowbell-ringing and horn-blowing acclaim.

"It was very difficult," said Hirscher. "It was fierce. What can I say, it's great!

"The atmosphere was sensational, it was great. But I was so focused and just tried not to make a mess. It was anything but easy."

The Austrian's path to the limelight was cleared in the first run when American Ted Ligety's bid for a fourth gold at these worlds was dashed after he bombed out.

Ligety bounced messily around one gate and landed awkardly, one of his skis breaking free to leave him looking back up the slope in regret.

It meant the American could not add to his medal haul of three golds (super-G, super combined, giant slalom), the first time a male skier has achieved that feat since France's Jean-Claude Killy in 1968.

With Ligety out of contention, the attention turned squarely on to Hirscher, who was a crucial part of the Austrian squad that won gold in the team event here and also claimed silver behind Ligety in the giant slalom.

Starting number 30 in the second run, the tension was palpable as racers upped the stakes in their bid for a podium placing.

The top 10 read like a who's who of slalom racing, but there were casualties down the floodlit Planai course.

"I really tried not to make the same mistakes I've done in the past in big events," admitted sivler medallist Neureuther. "I tried to stay relaxed and bring it down here.

"I didn't have an ideal run. Marcel did it really great again today."

Bronze medallist Matt added: "I trusted in myself to do it and I couldn't do anything but go full out.

"But you can't race senselessly. I'm very happy with the bronze medal, you have to be happy when you see how tight the field is in slalom."

Among the casualties was Austria's 2009 world champion Manfred Pranger, who straddled a gate when he was leading at the halfway intermediary time.

Teammate Benjamin Raich, the 2005 world champion, almost skied out but held on to his edge, eventually finishing at 2.59sec.

As racers pushed their limits, giant slalom bronze medallist Manfred Moelgg was the next to bomb out, also when he was in a promising position.

Starting with a healthy deficit of 0.65sec, the Italian forced his pace too much, to gasps from the baying, flag-waving crowd.

French hopes for a medal floundered, with Alexis Pinturault finishing sixth at 1.24sec, and defending injury-plagued world champion Jean-Baptiste Grange 12th at 2.43sec.