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Alpine skiing: Hirscher fulfils expectations with slalom win

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Austrian tyro Marcel Hirscher lived up to the expectations of the medal-hungry public in this ski-mad country by winning the men's world slalom in dramatic fashion on Sunday.

In what was a perfectly choreographed finish to the two-week World Ski Championships, Hirscher followed up his leading first run with a dramatic dash down the second in a tightly-fought competition.

The 23-year-old timed an aggregate of 1min 51.03sec, 0.42sec ahead of Germany's Felix Neureuther, with another Austrian, former two-time world champion Mario Matt, claiming bronze at 0.65sec.

Hirscher's victory handed Austria a first individual gold medal and the 40,000-strong crowd packed around the cramped finish area welcomed their new champion in deafening, cowbell-ringing and horn-blowing acclaim.

The Austrian's path to limelight was cleared in the first run when American Ted Ligety's bid for a fourth gold at these worlds was dashed after he bombed out.

Ligety bounced messily around one gate and landed awkardly, one of his skis breaking free to leave him looking back up the slope in regret.

It meant the American could not add to his medal haul of three golds (super-G, super combined, giant slalom), the first time a male skier has achieved that feat since France's Jean-Claude Killy in 1968.

With Ligety out of contention, the attention turned squarely on to Hirscher, who was a crucial part of the Austrian squad that won gold in the team event and also claimed silver behind Ligety in the giant slalom.

Starting number 30 in the second run, the tension was palpable as racers upped the stakes in their bid for a podium placing.

The top 10 read like a who's who of slalom racing, but there were casualties down the floodlit Planai course.

Austria's 2009 world champion Manfred Pranger straddled a gate when he was leading at the halfway intermediary time, and 2005 champion Benjamin Raich almost skied out but held on to his edge to finish at 2.59sec.

As racers pushed their limits, giant slalom bronze medallist Manfred Moelgg was the next to bomb out, also when he was in a promising position.

Starting with a deficit of 0.65sec, the Italian forced his pace too much, to gasps from the baying crowd.

French hopes for a medal floundered, with Alexis Pinturault finishing sixth at 1.24sec, and defending world champion Jean-Baptiste Grange 12th at 2.43sec.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130217/alpine-skiing-hirscher-fulfils-expectations-slalom-win