Marcel Hirscher, the overall World Cup champion, has won his first individual gold at a major skiing event. Germany's Felix Neureuther slalomed 0.42 seconds slower. Former champion Mario Matt had to settle for third.
Cheered loudly by a home crowd of 35,000, Hirscher who was the world's top skier last season, earned the host nation its second world cup gold this year, after the country won in the mixed-team event.
Hirscher (center in picture) finished with a combined time of 1 minute, 51.03 seconds. He and the German Neureuther (left in photo) also finished first and second, respectively, in the World Cup discipline standings.
The Austrian's path to the limelight emerged in Sunday's first run. The American Ted Ligety's was bidding for a fourth gold at the tournament but he lost balance and skidded out, losing a ski, just 15 seconds into the run.
"It's awesome," Hirscher said. "I forced myself to think, 'There's nothing at stake, it's just ski racing, it's just a game.' That helped me to handle the pressure. The atmosphere was sensational, super. I had to be careful not to blow it all for them."
Finishing just 0.65 of a second behind Hirscher, Austria's two-time champion Mario Matt had to settle for third.
Neureuther, who trailed Hirscher by 0.28 after the first run, may have lost a close race to Hirscher, but he did manage to win his first individual medal at a major competition.
"It's fantastic," Neureuther said. "I usually try to hide my emotions but I can't do that now. I've finally done what I've tried to do many times before at big events. I am really happy and proud."
Soft snow trims speed
Mild temperatures at the venue Schladming softened the snow and presented the skiers with even more of a challenge.
Neureuther said that it was "extremely difficult to gain speed on this course: You just don't get the right feeling on it."
Neureuther had also helped Germany win bronze in the team event. Maria Hoefl-Riesch won the women's super-combined title and added two more medals for Germany.
Italian great Alberto Tomba said Hirscher's achievement was "super, super."
"I said three days ago, Marcel is going to win," said Tomba, the 1996 world slalom champion.
mkg/ipj (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)