* Gamble pays off spectacularly for Austrian
* Too fast for rivals in slalom leg of combined
* Three strongest events still to come
By Mark Trevelyan
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Austria’s Marcel Hirscher won his first Olympic title on Tuesday in his least favoured event, setting up the prospect of a Pyeongchang medal rush for the man who has dominated Alpine skiing for the past seven seasons.
Despite six overall World Cup titles and another within close reach, Hirscher had just one Olympic silver medal to his name before arriving in South Korea.
He said he had been asked every day if his career would be complete without an Olympic gold.
“I’m super happy because now this stupid question is gone away,” Hirscher told reporters.
He took a major gamble by opting to race in Tuesday’s combined event - an all-round test that features a downhill run as well as his specialist slalom - together with the super-G, slalom and giant slalom, all yet to come.
That meant he had to spend Thursday to Saturday on downhill training at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre while rivals like Henrik Christoffersen of Norway were free to concentrate on slalom and GS practice.
“You never can expect something, especially not in ski racing. So many different things have to come together to win a race. We had no expectations for this combined. This already was a high-risk decision,” Hirscher said.
“Last time I put on downhill skis before the training here was exactly one year ago,” added the 28-year-old, who came 12th in the morning downhill but leapfrogged his rivals in the slalom to win by 0.23 seconds from Alexis Pinturault of France.
Hirscher leads the World Cup slalom, giant slalom and overall standings this season and appeared notably relaxed on arriving in Pyeongchang last week, telling reporters a gold medal would be great but not life-changing.
He looks even more dangerous in his favourite events now he has got the monkey off his back.
“I’m not travelling home tomorrow but if I wished, I could, because I have my big goal, I reached it, especially in Austria where everyone’s expecting that I’m going to win a gold medal, at least one,” he said. (Reporting by Mark Trevelyan, editing by Ed Osmond)