US tyro Ted Ligety proved once again he was the undoubted king of the giant slalom on Wednesday, setting himself up for Olympic gold after a storming first run.
The 29-year-old reigning world champion clocked a time of 1min 21.08sec, a whopping 0.93sec faster than his closest competitor, Czech skier Ondrej Bank.
Davide Simoncelli of Italy was third at 1.27sec with Thomas Fanara of France and downhill Olympic champion Matthias Mayer of Austria in joint fourth place.
Ligety's main giant slalom rivals -- French young gun Alexis Pinturault and Austrian hot shot Marcel Hirscher -- were sixth and seventh respectively, with one more run to go.
Pinturault, 22, was first to start and put in a strong performance on a crisp course and amid sunny weather that had little in common with the slushy conditions in the women's giant slalom on Tuesday.
He was quickly overtaken by Fanara but the Frenchman could only hold the lead for a short time.
Straight out of the starting gate, Ligety -- last season's giant slalom World Cup winner -- posted a 0.34sec lead which he kept building down the Rosa Khutor slope to finish far ahead of the competition.
Only Germany's Stefan Luitz came close to that, but he smashed into a gate just metres from the finish and was disqualified for straddling.
"Sometimes my best or fastest run doesn't feel like that. Today I actually felt at times that I was going a little too cautiously, but I managed to get a nice buffer," four-time world champion Ligety said.
"Having this kind of buffer definitely allows you not to take super risks in the second run."
"I'm 50 percent of the way there, I have to go hard in the second run... Anything can still happen, I just have to stick with my skiing."
Simoncelli and Bank slotted in behind him with later starts.
"I am surprised for sure. I was hoping for a good time but I would have never dreamed of skiing in second place," said the Czech skier.
- 'It's really a small miracle' -
"I am not used to being in this position and am normally a little bit behind, so we will see how this afternoon goes."
Simoncelli was also caught off guard: "I was a lot faster than I was expecting to be."
"I tried to push and take some risks, but I am still surprised with my time. I am very happy."
In another surprise run, 23-year-old Mayer -- last week's sensational downhill Olympic champion -- bested his compatriot Hirscher, the current giant slalom World Cup leader.
Germany's Felix Neureuther, who was long in doubt for Wednesday's race, finished eighth.
The slalom world silver-medallist was involved in a car accident on Friday in Munich on his way to take his plane for Sochi and had to cut short training on Monday due to serious pain.
"I'm just really pleased I was able to start. It's really a small miracle considering everything that's happened," he said.
"I'm happy with my run and I'm going to focus on my own thing, rather than wondering whether I can win a medal or not."
His teammate and Sochi roommate Luitz however was left rueing a missed opportunity.
"You idiot!" was his first reaction. "I have no idea what happened. I had a good feeling about my run, the top was good but maybe I let my head go."
Defending Olympic champion Carlo Janka was ninth, while US star Bode Miller, chasing yet another medal after joint bronze in the men's super-G on Sunday, finished 26th.
"On this course, anything's possible, but it depends on getting a good bib number," said the six-time Olympic medallist.
"If I'm not in the top 30, I'm toast."
The race was marred by a few serious falls with Bulgaria's Stefan Prisadov having to be stretchered off the course.
The second round kicks off at 2:30pm (1030GMT).