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France's Pinturault slaloms to world combined gold


Åre (Sweden) (AFP)

France's Alexis Pinturault laid down a fantastic slalom run to win the world alpine combined event on Monday, his first global title in a discipline that faces being cut from the skiing calendar.

Pinturault, who claimed Olympic combined silver last year, left himself with it all to do in the slalom having only managed to finish 24th in the downhill, 1.52sec behind Italian leader Dominik Paris.

The 27-year-old, who won giant slalom bronze in the 2015 worlds as well as gold in the team event two years ago, held his nerve on a floodlit Olympia course to race down with a combined time of 1min 47.71sec to crown himself the unofficial "best all-round skier".

Slovenia's Stefan Hadalin only scraped into the top 30, in 30th spot, by four-hundredths, but went on to claim an impressive silver, 0.24sec off Pinturault.

The Slovene, whose best showing in six seasons on the World Cup circuit is an eighth place in the Saalbach slalom in December, clocked the fastest slalom run of the day, 0.12sec ahead of Pinturault. Austrian Marco Schwarz took bronze (+0.46).

"It means a lot of work, a lot of time," Pinturault said of the gold. "I'm really happy with the result, It was a long day, a hard day, but a really happy end for me."

He added that he had taken nothing for granted. "I realised (I'd won) just after the end because you never know, some downhillers can ski really fast, really well."

The combined faces being cut altogether from FIS' skiing calendar because of perceived difficulties over the time needed to hold the discipline on the same mountain while attracting the top athletes from slalom and downhill given how specifically differing the events are.

"What I like is that it is combined with downhillers. You see the best downhillers and the best slalom guys, it's the only discipline that has this and that's why I really enjoy it," Pinturault said.

A tearful Hadalin added: "It's unbelievable. I didn't expect to be on the podium.

"But after the downhill I saw the course and said to myself 'you take the chance and see at the finish'. I took it and had a good run, the rest followed."

After nailing an impressive slalom, Pinturault faced a nervy wait in the leader's chair watching the 23 racers in front of him tackle the course.

His French teammate Victor Muffat-Jeandet, who won bronze in Pyeongchang and finished just ahead of him in the downhill, made a mistake in the slalom that saw him come in sixth overall, 0.81sec off the pace.

- Schwarz in the snow -

There was then snowfall for the next 10 competitors, starting with Schwarz, installed as a firm favourite having won last month's combined in Wengen.

It was not to be for the Austrian, however, losing speed, as many racers did, in a flatter transitional section to the final drop into the finish area.

Defending world combined champion Luca Aerni of Switzerland, also well placed for attack after the downhill, similarly faltered to lose time, coming in eighth behind teammate and world bronze medallist Mauro Caviezel.

Italian Riccardo Tonetti and Germany's Linus Strasser both briefly threatened before fading, eventually finishing fourth and fifth.

Tonetti's teammate Christof Innerhofer, 2014 Olympic combined bronze medallist, skied out whilst leading at the second intermediary, before Paris took to the start hut.

Paris, joint fourth in the 2017 world combined, had stormed to an impressive super-G victory in Are last week and again impressed on the Olympia course in the downhill.

But his lack of time on the shorter slalom skis quickly showed up under floodlights and by halfway of his laboured descent, Pinturault knew he had sealed gold.

The 29-year-old Paris' last competitive stand-alone slalom dates back to Kitzbuehel in 2013, in which he failed to finish the first run.

He also bombed out of the slalom in the Wengen combined and also at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, but in Are at least managed to finish, albeit 1.51sec slower than Pinturault in a gutsy showing.

American Ted Ligety, 2013 combined champion and 2006 Olympic gold medallist in the discipline, had a shocker in the speed event, coming in 42nd at 2.57sec, a deficit so big he didn't even bother gracing the technical event.

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