PYEONGCHANG, South Korea, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Norways’s Henrik Kristoffersen opened up an early lead in the first leg of the men’s slalom on Thursday as favourite Marcel Hirscher failed to complete the course, in one of the biggest skiing shocks of the Olympics.
Hirscher, who had already won the Alpine combined and giant slalom in Pyeongchang, was widely tipped to win a third gold in the event he has dominated for most of the past six years.
But he made a terrible mistake about half-way down the course, his right ski flailing high in the air as he lost control on a turn and kicked up a huge cloud of snow. He ground to a halt and failed to complete the course.
The mantle of favourite now passes to his great rival Kristoffersen who, skiing immediately before, had carved through the 66 gates in 47.72 seconds.
Sweden’s Andre Myhrer was 0.21 seconds behind and France’s Victor Muffat-Jeandet, bronze medallist in the combined, a further 0.41 behind.
“For sure it is disappointing but it’s okay for myself after really bad training days here,” said Hirscher, whose coach Michael Pircher had set the course. “I already had a bad feeling about the whole situation.
“This is the end result of a few training days and a few training runs where I couldn’t find any speed.”
Hirscher thought the top two in the first run will be fighting it out for the gold medal in his absence.
“I think Andre Myrher has a big chance,” he said. “But for sure Henrik, I think those two guys will have a battle.”
With all the top 30-ranked skiers having completed their first runs, Christoffersen - so often the nearly-man behind Hirscher - was assured of the lead going into the second run beginning at 1.30 p.m. local time (0430 GMT).
Hirscher, the overall World Cup champion for the last six seasons, said he had struggled to ski smoothly and cleanly.
“I never have problems with grip on the ice. But if it is grippy and hard, packed snow like here today, I’m really not able to handle this.”
He had been bidding to become only the third man to win three Alpine skiing gold medals at a single Olympics.
“It’s been amazing and really perfect, it was a big surprise that I won the gold medal in the super combined and it’s also a surprise that I’m standing here now out of the race,” he said.
“But this is part of the game and part of the sport.” (Additional reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)