PYEONGCHANG (REUTERS) - Marcel Hirscher, the greatest skier of his generation, ended his long wait for an Olympic gold medal when the Austrian claimed top spot in the men's combined event after a blistering slalom run on Tuesday (Feb 13).
Hirscher, who has won the last six overall World Cup titles and is poised to claim a seventh, climbed from an unexpectedly high 12th place after the downhill segment at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre to pip France's Alexis Pinturault by 0.23 of a second.
The Austrian's previous best in the Olympics was a silver medal in slalom at Sochi four years ago.
"I killed it. It is something really special and unexpected. I'm super happy that this stupid question mark over my career has been removed," he told reporters.
Hirscher was forced to hold back his joy for a few moments after team-mate Matthias Mayer, who was within touching distance, made a strong start to his slalom but forked a gate and fell.
The 28-year-old, who has said these would be his third and last Olympics, then sprinted out into the finishing area to celebrate his triumph.
Victor Muffat-Jeandet completed a good day for French skiers by claiming the bronze medal behind compatriot Pinturault in an event that brings together a downhill stage and then a slalom section to test the all-round skills of competitors.
Hirscher has won 10 World Cup races in slalom and giant slalom this season, leaving Pinturault delighted to have just finished so close to the winner.
"I'm really, really happy. Marcel has been unbeatable... so I really had to try hard and at least it was only two tenths. I can only be happy and proud," he said.
Muffat-Jeandet said he had paid the price for a lacklustre downhill effort, where he finished 20th, more than a second behind Hirscher.
"I was very disappointed and angry with my downhill run. I didn't think my slalom run would be enough. I waited so long and in the end I was a bit flat. I never really dreamed of winning an Olympic medal," the Frenchman said.
Norway's Aksel Svindal, who was second after the downhill segment behind Germany's Thomas Dressen, surprisingly decided not to run the slalom leg.
A Norwegian team official said that while Svindal did not have an injury, he was concerned about his knee after the warm-up.
Early leader Dressen, who has little slalom pedigree, finished in ninth position on a day when organisers were delighted to finally get action under way following 48 hours of weather postponements.
With strong winds still a concern, the competition went ahead with an adjusted downhill stage, racing lower down the course at the designated super-G start and using the 'blue wind line' which made for easier jumps.
Dressen was first out and completed the course in 1min 19.24sec and Hirscher, second down, was 1.32sec slower.
The winds soon whipped up and caused problems on the relatively benign jumps, however.
Olympic Athlete from Russia Pavel Trikhichev and American Ryan Cochran-Siegle both crashed out after clipping gates.
Italian Peter Fill somehow managed to land safely when the wind caught him midway through a jump and forced him into an awkward position, but he later crashed out in the slalom.