BY HOWARD FENDRICH
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — Here’s one way to explain just how dominant Marcel Hirscher was Sunday: His winning margin of 1.27 seconds was the largest in the men’s giant slalom at an Olympics in 50 years.
Here’s one way to explain just how dominant Hirscher is right now: The Austrian, who also won the Alpine combined last week, will try to become the first male ski racer with three gold medals at a Winter Games in 50 years.
That shot at No. 3 will come in Hirscher’s specialty, the slalom, on Thursday. If others’ thoughts immediately turned to the possibility of that rare triple gold — only two men and one woman have ever done it in Alpine at a single Olympics — Hirscher offered a simple answer when asked whether his mind was there yet.
“No,” he replied.
Not at all?
“No,” he repeated, laughing. “I am happy with today’s result, and I didn’t (think) about the slalom race until you asked me this question.”
And then the best at his sport in recent years — with six overall World Cup titles and other accolades to prove it — and among the greatest ever, laughed again.
The 28-year-old Hirscher was fantastic Sunday, with a total two-run time of 2 minutes, 18.04 seconds that was 1.27 seconds faster than silver medalist Henrik Kristoffersen of Norway, with Alexis Pinturault of France in third.
Not since Jean-Claude Killy won the 1968 GS by more than 2 seconds had there been such a wide gap between first and second.
“Putting on a show,” was the way American Ted Ligety, the defending champion who finished 15th, described Hirscher’s performance.
Smoothly transitioning side-to-side from gate to gate, never appearing in the slightest bit of trouble, Hirscher was fastest by more than a half-second in the opening leg.
Even though he could have played it safe in run No. 2 with that huge lead, he was bettered only by Kristoffersen.
“In giant slalom at the moment, he’s in his own league. We’re fighting for silver and bronze, for sure,” said Kristoffersen, a bronze medalist behind second-place Hirscher in the slalom at the 2014 Sochi Games. “He has all the capabilities he needs. He has the equipment and team around him to be that good. And he has the experience as well.”
Other competitors speak about Hirscher with awe.
His preparation. His mental toughness. The way he maneuvers his compact 5-foot-8 (1.73-meter) frame down the hill.
“He does such a good job of creating power out of the turn. You can’t really tell, but on steeps, the speeds just come at you a lot faster. He’s able to keep a clean ski, really pushing the turn, and the energy that he gets out of it, it just accelerates him out into the next turn a lot better,” said Ryan Cochran-Siegle, an American who briefly led during the second leg and finished tied for 11th. “Especially when it gets choppier for second runs. He’s like the king of second runs right now.”
For all Hirscher already had done before getting to South Korea, his two golds removed any doubts about whether he could flourish on the Olympic stage.
“That,” said his coach, Michael Pircher, “was the only goal we had to reach.”
In previous Winter Games, Hirscher twice finished fourth in the giant slalom, and that slalom silver was his lone medal. Not bad, certainly, but also not what has come to be expected of the very elite in skiing.
After winning the combined on Tuesday, Hirscher discussed hearing folks ask all the time whether his otherwise-perfect resume required Olympic gold for validation. That resume includes 55 World Cup race wins, second only to Ingemar Stenmark’s 86, and four individual world championships.
“I’m super happy,” he said that day, “because now this stupid question has gone away.”
Has it ever. He is the first male Alpine skier with two golds since another Austrian, Benjamin Raich, at Turin in 2006.
Up next comes trying to equal Austria’s Toni Sailer in 1956, France’s Killy in 1968, and Croatia’s Janica Kostelic in 2002 with three Alpine golds at an Olympics.
How exceptional is Hirscher in the slalom? He won 6 of 8 on the World Cup circuit this season, with second place (to Kristoffersen) in another. He was the slalom world champion in 2013 and 2017.
“We don’t think about it yet,” Pircher said. “We (take a) day off tomorrow. Celebrate today. And tomorrow evening, we start thinking about the slalom.”
AP Sports Writers Pat Graham and Graham Dunbar contributed to this report.
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