An unconfident Marcel Hirscher wasn’t sure he wanted to start the World Championships super combined. Ted Ligety didn’t think he would win a medal after he finished skiing.
But in an unusual sequence of events, Hirscher captured gold and Ligety bronze in Beaver Creek, Colo., on Sunday.
In the super combined, all skiers take one downhill run. Then, the top 30 from the downhill go in reverse order in the slalom, followed by everybody ranked 31st and lower from the downhill. Skiers are then ranked by their combined times from the downhill and slalom.
Hirscher, a World slalom champion who rarely races downhill, was 31st-fastest in the morning downhill run Sunday. His chances to come back from a 3.16-second deficit would have been zero if not for one thing.
The Czech Republic’s Ondrej Bank spectacularly crashed near the end of his downhill run and was disqualified, even though he was reportedly 25th-fastest when he slid across the finish line.
The absence of Bank, who suffered a concussion, allowed Hirscher to move from 31st to 30th and, more importantly, from 31st in the slalom start order to first in the slalom start order. Starting earlier in slalom is an advantage — and a bigger edge given warm conditions like on Sunday.
“If Ondrej Bank hadn’t straddled the last gate, [Hirscher] would’ve started 31st and had no chance,” said Ligety, who was 29th in the downhill, one spot ahead of Hirscher, and started second in the slalom, one spot after Hirscher.
Hirscher ended up beating Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud by .19 in combined time for gold. Jansrud was fastest in the downhill, so he had to start 30th with beat-up snow from the 29 racers who went before him. Ligety was .30 behind for bronze. (full results here)
Hirscher won his second career World Championships individual gold medal and could win two more gold medals in the giant slalom and slalom over the next seven days. The 25-year-old Austrian currently leads the World Cup overall standings and is trying to become the first man to win four straight World Cup overall titles.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to start in the super combined, because my downhill training, especially in the first and the second run, were really bad, around five seconds behind the leader,” Hirscher said on NBC. “Today, I changed a bit of my setup, new boots, new skis, and it worked really well. I’m super lucky that it is warm, and it was definitely not easy to ski today with bib No. 30 [as Jansrud did], so no one expected that I was going to win the gold medal today.”
Ligety won his sixth career World Championships medal, matching Lindsey Vonn for the most by an American. The two-time Olympic champion took Worlds gold in this event in 2013.
“After the downhill run I thought there was no possibility of being anywhere close to a medal,” Ligety said. “It was just dumb luck.”
Ligety, too, benefited from starting early. He estimated that starting first or second versus starting 30th in the slalom was around a three-second advantage.
“If I was a half-second faster in the downhill, I wouldn’t have been able to get a medal at all,” Ligety said. “That’s how big of a difference I thought running early was. It was a brilliant strategy to be that slow, I guess.”
Here’s Ligety’s slalom run:
Hirscher skied his slalom run in 49.93 seconds, the only skier to go sub-50. Ligety went right after Hirscher and had the second-fastest slalom time in the field, 50.36.
Jansrud, who owns three Olympic medals, bagged his first World Championships medal. He finished fourth in the super-G and 15th in the downhill last week after coming in as a favorite to make the podium in both events.
The World Championships continue with the women’s super combined, including Vonn, on Monday.
Here’s Bank’s crash: