February 08, 2015

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. (AP) The snow conditions were a little bit of a sticky subject for everyone other than Marcel Hirscher and Ted Ligety.

Sticky, because the sun and soaring temperatures turned the slalom course into a groove-filled track that made attacking downright difficult for everyone else. Going first, Hirscher tore up the hill. Racing next, Ligety did, too. Two improbable medals from way, way back in the pack.

Hirscher, of Austria, 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. Hirscher finished in a combined time of 2 minutes, 36.10 seconds. Jansrud was 0.19 seconds back. Ligety, the defending champion, earned bronze after going right after Hirscher, when the course was still holding up.

''We got lucky with the start numbers and how it deteriorated so fast,'' said Ligety, from Park City, Utah. ''This is definitely a surprise for sure.''

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 in the slalom. A big advantage because had he started No. 31, well, ''I wouldn't have won,'' Hirscher conceded.

''You always need luck to be in first position,'' Hirscher added.

No one could catch Hirscher after his nearly flawless slalom run. 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, jumped out to a big lead on the tech specialists with his downhill run. As the 30th racer down the hill in the slalom, he had a ''queasy'' feeling in the start gate, knowing the conditions weren't ideal for him. He put that out of his mind, charged ahead and turned in an impressive final run on deteriorating conditions to earn his first medal at worlds.

He was expected to win a medal in the super-G or the downhill, maybe even two, but he didn't. To pick up a medal in this event was a surprise, even to him.

''It's a great feeling to leave the champs with a medal,'' said Jansrud, who's skipping the giant slalom. ''Coming in, everyone expected me to fight for golds and grab one. So, winning a silver in a discipline where I'm an outsider means a lot. It's way better getting on an airplane with a medal.''

After a self-described ''horrible'' downhill run, Ligety didn't think he had a shot at a medal. Even more after finishing behind Hirscher's time in the slalom. Ligety didn't think his time would hold up - someone surely would knock him off the podium.

Didn't happen.

''I just skied with reckless abandon in the slalom run and made some mistakes, somehow lucky enough to hold on for a medal,'' said Ligety, who won three gold medals two years ago at worlds in Austria. ''Pretty bizarre race, when you can go from 29th to the podium.''

The softer snow definitely played a big role, even on a course that was rather tame.

''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.

''I'm super happy and feeling free.''

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