PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) Henrik Kristoffersen took advantage of rival Marcel Hirscher skiing out to lead the first run of the Olympic men’s slalom on Thursday.
The Norwegian racer, starting immediately before Hirscher, set a fast target of 47.72 seconds and was 0.21 ahead of Andre Myhrer of Sweden.
Kristoffersen and Myhrer won the bronze medals in slalom at the past two Winter Games.
Third-placed Victor Muffat-Jeandet of France has 0.62 seconds to make up on Kristoffersen in the second run. Muffat-Jeandet got bronze in the Alpine combined won by Hirscher.
Hirscher was the favorite to become the first male Alpine skier in 50 years to win three golds at the same Olympics. He also won the giant slalom on the same hill at Yongpyong Alpine Center when Kristoffersen took silver.
Still, Hirscher looked uneasy on a course where the first-run gates were set by an Austrian team coach, who was selected by lottery for the duty. He already lost speed at one combination of gates and trailed by more than a half-second at the midway time split before going off the course.
”I had already really a bad feeling about the whole situation,” Hirscher said, acknowledging he had some ”really bad training days here.”
It has been more than two years since Hirscher last failed to finish a slalom – a span of 21 races, including his victory at the 2017 world championships. His last failure also occurred on the typically dry Asian snow, at Yuzawa Naeba, Japan.
In eight World Cup slaloms this season, Hirscher won six, was runner0up once and placed 17th when he raced in Finland in November with just a few days of training after breaking his ankle in August.
Kristoffersen also has been consistent this season, placing in the top three of all eight World Cup slaloms, with one victory. A medal for Kristoffersen would be a seventh for the impressive Norway team on the Olympic Alpine program.
France had another strong showing in the men’s Alpine races.
Alexis Pinturault, a two-time medalist behind Hirscher here, was sixth fastest, and junior world champion Clement Noel was seventh. Both were within a quarter-second of teammate Muffat-Jeandet.
The American team took up only three of its four allotted spots in the 108-man lineup. Dave Chodounsky placed 17th, with 1.71 seconds to make up in the afternoon on a course set by an Italian coach.
The race began on a clear, sunny day with temperatures around minus-9 Celsius (16 Fahrenheit) in the finish area. A low sun behind the racers cast long shadows down the hill.
More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org