BEAVER CREEK, Colo. -- Well behind after the downhill, Marcel Hirscher of Austria doubted he had much of a chance. He couldn't have been more mistaken.
Hirscher made up a staggering 3.16 seconds in the slalom portion of the Alpine combined to win the gold medal at the world championships Sunday, with downhill leader Kjetil Jansrud of Norway hanging on for silver.
Starting first in the afternoon slalom session, Hirscher took advantage of a rut-free course to finish in a combined time of 2 minutes, 36.10 seconds. Jansrud, the 30th skier to go and with big grooves on the hill, wound up 0.19 seconds back. American Ted Ligety, the defending champion, earned bronze after going right after Hirscher, when the course was still fresh.
The race had a scary moment when Ondrej Bank of the Czech Republic lost his balance on the final jump of the downhill and crashed hard on the snow, sliding across the finish line on his side. He suffered a concussion, bruised leg and facial cuts.
Bank was disqualified for straddling a gate. That bumped Hirscher up from 31st to 30th, and the skier in 30th goes first. So he attacked the clean course, setting the time to beat.
No one could catch him. Not surprising, really, since Hirscher is so smooth in technical events.
"It's unbelievable," Hirscher said of winning the event that was formerly known as the super-combined. "My plans for this championships was, in the best case, to catch one medal, doesn't matter which color. I reached my goals. Everything that happens now is super good."
Jansrud, who's not known for his slalom, had an impressive run on deteriorating conditions to earn his first medal at worlds.
Ligety went second in the slalom after Hirscher, and when he finished behind his rival he never thought the time would hold up for a medal. But it did.
"After the downhill leg, I thought I had no chance," Ligety said. "I just skied with reckless abandon in the slalom run and made some mistakes, somehow lucky enough to hold on for a medal. Pretty bizarre race, when you can go from 29th to the podium."
The softer snow definitely played a role, even on a course that was rather easy.
"I earned it because I got lucky enough to start (No.) 2, more than anything," Ligety said. "On this softer snow, especially with the heat and the bottom flat, tough to have any kind of chance unless you're a really elite slalom skier."
Right after Jansrud finished -- unable to top his time -- Hirscher began celebrating, running onto the bottom of the hill. He was that elated, especially considering his downhill performance -- which wasn't all that bad, just far behind Jansrud. Asked if he could make up that much time, Hirscher simply said, "Nope. No."
So what happened?
"For sure, in the second run, I was super lucky to be the first down the slalom course," Hirscher said. "No one was expecting I was going to win this race today."