BUKPYEONG, South Korea — At the de facto “halftime” of the men’s combined Alpine skiing event Tuesday, the plot had gone optimal. The Austrian dynasty Marcel Hirscher, the king of the sport who recently edged into second place in World Cup wins, sat 12th after the downhill with a deficit of only 1.32 seconds and the slalom still to go — and the man can flat-out slalom.
If Hirscher could master the afternoon portion of the combined event in the cold wind at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre, he could win his first Olympic gold medal, which would fit snugly with his 55 World Cup wins — a tally reached Jan. 28, which surpassed the 54 of his legendary countryman, Hermann Maier. Olympic ratification has come a little more slowly to Hirscher, who has two fourth-place finishes in the giant slalom, a fifth-place finish in the slalom to go with a silver medal in the slalom from the 2014 Sochi Games.
With Germany’s Thomas Dressen continuing his recent barge to the fore in the sport by finishing first in the 1.77-mile downhill course at 1 minute 19.24 seconds, the attention for the slalom more than two hours later would go to Hirscher pursuing his first gold.
Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway, who won a medal in each of the three colors at Vancouver 2010 (with a gold in the super-G), stood in second place, 0.07 seconds behind Dressen, with Matthias Mayer, the Austrian who won the gold medal in the downhill four years ago in Sochi, just an additional 0.06 seconds behind that. Just beyond that stood Kjetil Jansrud, the Norwegian who won the gold in the super-G at Sochi.
Among Americans, Ted Ligety, the Olympic champion in this event when it had a different format with two slalom races at Turin in 2006, posted a good run, standing in a tie for 26th place, 2.12 seconds off the pace heading into the afternoon and into his greater specialty. Ligety, who said he has been feeling his best in a while at age 33, had a similar position after the downhill at Turin, standing 32nd before his slaloms carried him to the top.
Jared Goldberg, the 26-year-old American son of Utahn ski instructors, ran a strong ninth after the downhill to stand 0.78 seconds behind Dressen. Bryce Bennett, the 25-year-old, 6-foot-7 former BMX racer from California, was 23rd, churning down 1.94 seconds away from Dressen. Ryan Cochran-Siegle, 25, the Vermonter and latest accomplished member of an accomplished skiing family, was one of only three skiers among 65 who could not finish. Skiing fourth after the conditions were deemed suitable for competition, he crashed after having a delay to the start of his race from another crash.
Other medalists and favorites crowded into the mix. In fifth place and 0.53 seconds back sat Christof Innerhofer of Italy, who won bronze in Sochi in the combined, the same Olympics in which he took a silver in the downhill. A skier pegged as a favorite on some lists, Alexis Pinturault of France, ended the midday downhill session in 10th place, just more than a second shy of Dressen.
Dressen, the 24-year-old German from Bavaria, found his first World Cup podium just this past December in Beaver Creek, Colo. He did better than that in the downhill at Kitzbuhel, Austria, on Jan. 20, gaining his first win and sustaining his recent hot run of form. Eight days after that, Hirscher, at Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany, took that 55th World Cup win.
As his lack of an Olympic gold medal has been something of an issue in ski-expert Austria, the afternoon ahead looked freighted for him and for the sport, even as he stands favored to win in both the slalom later events (slalom and giant slalom).
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