ST MORITZ, Switzerland: Austrian Marcel Hirscher kept his nerve in deteriorating conditions to win his first world giant slalom title on Friday (Feb 17) after two previous silvers.
Hirscher, on track for a sixth consecutive World Cup overall crystal globe and silver medallist in last week's alpine combined in St Moritz, clocked a total time of 2min 13.31sec, with snow flurries and cloud hampering the second run.
"I am very tired at the moment, but I have unbelievable feelings," said Hirscher. "It was one of the toughest races we've had this season so far. I'm very thankful for this."
Hirscher's unheralded teammate Roland Leitinger, whose previous best World Cup finish was a sixth place in the Soleden giant slalom in 2015, claimed silver, 0.25sec adrift.
Leif Kristian Haugen of Norway usurped favoured teammate Henrik Kristoffersen by five-hundredths of a second to take bronze, at 0.71sec, a first Norwegian medal in the giant slalom since the injured Aksel Lund Svindal won gold in 2007.
Reigning three-time champion Ted Ligety, behind whom Hirscher won silvers in 2015 in Beaver Creek/Vail and 2013 in Schladming, was unable to defend his title, the American having undergone surgery on a back injury.
French hopes of a third successive gold medal in St Moritz, after victories in the team event and women's giant slalom (Tessa Worley), were pinned on Alexis Pinturault, winner of three giant slaloms on the World Cup circuit this season.
PINTURAULT FADES TO SEVENTH
Sitting primed in third place after the first run, Pinturault faded badly on the second, timing only the 21st fastest descent to eventually finish a disappointing seventh, 0.98sec off Hirscher's pace.
And Austrian Philipp Schoerghofer, who sat in second after an impressive first leg, also faded, one mistake seeing him finish fifth behind the two Norwegians.
It was the third individual title for the 27-year-old Hirscher, who won the slalom in 2013 and combined in 2015, as well as picking up two team golds in those world champs.
The second leg of the giant slalom had been delayed after the wing of a Swiss Air Force exhibition fly-by plane clipped a cable that caused a camera to fall 50 metres to the ground, landing in the finish area of the Corviglia course, just metres from the spectator tribunes, but without injuring anyone.
While the incident occurred between runs, with no racers in the immediate area, it was reminiscent of the crash of a malfunctioning drone in a World Cup race in Italy in December 2015 that narrowly missed Hirscher.
The Austrian had dubbed the crash of the drone "shameful", but also revealed he had no idea at the time what had happened, believing an official charged with flattening out the piste after a competitor's run had hit the ground.
The crash left many on the World Cup circuit convinced that drones have no place flying over a skiing race. Fixed-line "travelling" cameras are commonplace, however, and are also widely used in sports such as athletics, football and rugby.