He’s considered by many as the best skier of his generation, but Olympic gold had always eluded Marcel Hirscher until now.
The 28-year-old Austrian superstar finally clinched his first Olympic title with victory in the combined event at PyeongChang 2018.
Hirscher kept in touch with a respectable time in his unfavored downhill discipline and then unleashed his slalom skills to overhaul the field at a windy Jeongseon Alpine Centre Tuesday.
“I killed it,” Hirscher told reporters after finishing 0.23 seconds ahead of Alexis Pinturault of France and 1.02 seconds clear of Victor Muffat-Jeandet, also of France.
“It is something really special and unexpected.”
Hirscher’s previous best result at an Olympics had been one silver medal from Sochi four years ago after leaving Vancouver 2010 empty handed.
“I’m super happy that this stupid question mark over my career has been removed,” he said.
Hirscher has won 55 World Cup races and a record six consecutive World Cup overall crowns. He is a six-time world champion across four disciplines and is well on course for a seventh World Cup overall title this season.
“He could well be the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of all time), I’d say he’s up there,” five-time British Olympic skier Graham Bell told the BBC.
Hirscher’s claims have some credence, although there are others with similar pedigree.
American Lindsey Vonn is the most successful female ski racer of all time with 81 World Cup victories, and lies just five short of Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark, who holds the overall record.
The 33-year-old Vonn is intent on continuing her World Cup career until she passes Stenmark.
After high winds caused the the men’s downhill and the women’s giant slalom to be postponed earlier in the week, the men’s alpine combined was the first skiing event of the Games.
Germany’s Thomas Dressen, winner of the Kitzbuehel downhill earlier in the season, won the first run in a time of one minute, 19.24 seconds, with Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal in second place followed by the defending men’s downhill champion, Matthias Mayer of Austria as Hirscher finished 12th.
Many of the downhill specialists struggled in the slalom, with Mayer crashing and knocking over a camera man, and Dressen dropping back to ninth.
Svindal decided not to start in the slalom to rest his knee for the men’s downhill later in the week.
But Hirscher attacked the slalom run with his customary energetic style despite strong side winds blowing snow over the course to eclipse the skiers in front of him.
“It was an amazing downhill, I think it was my best downhill ever,” Hirscher said. “I started in the slalom run and managed to find the right line and a pretty close position to Alexis [Pinturault], so I’m super super happy with today’s result, for sure.”
Hirscher may add two more gold medals to his tally later in the Olympics, when he will compete in the slalom and giant slalom.
Kim soars to new heights
Just like Hirscher, American athlete Chloe Kim also more than lived up to the pressure, becoming the youngest female snowboarder as she soared to gold in the women’s halfpipe with jumps never seen before at an Olympic competition.
With the gold medal already secured after she opened her first run with a score of 93.75, Kim saved the best for last with a mark of 98.75 on her third and final attempt with daring back-to-back 1080-degree spins. She is the only female snowboarder to have landed those jumps in an official competition.
Liu Jiayu took silver with a a score of 89.75 to become the first Chinese snowboarder to claim an Olympic medal, followed by American Arielle Gold in third place with a score of 85.75.
Shaun White, the 31-year-old American snowboarder nicknamed “The Flying Tomato” who won the men’s halfpipe at the 2006 and 2010 Winter Games, scored the best run in qualifying on Tuesday with 93.25. White missed out on the medals in Sochi in 2014.