BEAVER CREEK, Colorado (Reuters) - A crash in a downhill is never a good thing but Ondrej Bank’s pain was a stroke of good fortune for Austria’s Marcel Hirscher who won the gold medal in the super combined at the alpine ski world championships on Sunday.
Bank’s spectacular crash in the morning downhill and his eventual disqualification for missing a gate gave Hirscher the number one bib and a perfect piste for the afternoon slalom.
Instead of leaving the Austrian outside the top 30 and forced to deal with a rutted and mushy course, Hirscher took full advantage and turned in the day’s best run to clinch a surprise gold medal ahead of Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud.
“Today I wouldn’t have won with bib number 31, no,” admitted world slalom champion Hirscher, who had the 30th best downhill time and would have started 31st without Bank’s disqualification.
“But you always need luck to be in the first position.”
Even with the number one start position, Hirscher needed to produce something special in the slalom to erase Jansrud’s 3.16 second advantage after the downhill.
Having thrown down the gauntlet, Hirscher waited in the finish area for almost an hour as skier after skier failed to better his time and he finally celebrated when Jansrud crossed the line 0.19 seconds behind to take the silver.
Defending combined champion Ted Ligety of the United States, who had the 29th best time in the downhill before finishing third, also acknowledged that a medal would have been impossible without his second start number behind Hirscher in the slalom.
”If I was half-a-second faster in the downhill, I wouldn’t have been able to get a medal at all,“ said Ligety. ”It was a brilliant strategy to be that slow.
”If Bank hadn’t straddled and went out, that would have made a really big difference. It was unfortunate for him but my slalom run was really good.
“It costs you three seconds between starting 30th or first. The course got really rutty, the snow was soft and it was hot.”
With the win and the pressure off, three-time World Cup overall champion Hirscher will now set his sights on adding to his world championship haul, which could reach four gold medals.
The Austrian will be favoured to retain his slalom world title and he will battle Ligety in the giant slalom. Hirscher will also compete in the team event.
“It is unbelievable. In Austria, skiing is really big and sometimes there is a lot of pressure on my shoulders,” said Hirscher.
“Nearly everyone is expecting that I am going to win, for sure, one medal and, in the best case, a gold medal. I have done that today so I am super happy and I am feeling free.”
Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes