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American Emily Sweeney thrown off sled in luge crash

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Marcel Hirscher is an idol in ski-crazed Austria, the scruffy-faced winner of six consecutive overall World Cup titles to become the planet’s most dominant Alpine skier.

His exploits on the slopes even inspired a song that became a runaway hit in Austria and will be the only thing that sticks in your head longer than one of his flawless slalom runs.

The 28 year old seemed to have everything — except for an Olympic gold medal. Hirscher has downplayed the glaring absence in a career that includes 55 World Cup victories, 120 podiums and, in two previous trips to the Olympics, one silver medal. 

But Pyeongchang will be his final Games. One accomplishment remained.

“I’m here for the mission,” he said a few days ago.

Hirscher made good on the pledge Tuesday. He won the combined event at the Jeongseon Alpine Center on the strength of a mesmerizing trip through the slalom course, seemingly unaffected by swirling wind and bitter cold under sunshine and blue skies.

Even some Austrian journalists covering the event couldn’t restrain themselves, roaring support for their countryman.

“Everyone is saying, ‘Nice career, but an Olympic gold medal is still missing,’” Hirscher said. “This is perfect, unbelievable.”

The pressure of the moment, as usual, didn’t faze him. Because of lingering wind that delayed the start of the 11-event Alpine schedule for two days, organizers moved the beginning of the downhill portion of the combined to the lower super-G start.

Still, wind whipped through the course. Two of the first four downhill competitors crashed. Which way the wind was blowing from minute to minute played a major role in how each skier finished — some skied with a tailwind, others faced a headwind.

“There is only the wind that can be a problem,” said France’s Alexis Pinturault, who won the silver medal.

Hirscher placed 12th in the downhill — the technical specialist was thrilled with the performance — then posted a simple message on Instagram: “first part done.” He added a check mark at the end. 

Then Hirscher, the favorite to win the slalom and giant slalom, flew through the slalom with his red skis. Wind kicked up again during the run. It didn’t bother him. The lone mistake — if you can even call it that — came as he teetered on one ski crossing the finish line with the best time, by far, in the event in front of a half-full grandstand.

“Well, it’s not real for now, but I think in a few hours it’ll come closer and especially during the prize-giving ceremony,” Hirscher said. “A dream coming true.”

France’s Victor Muffat-Jeandet won bronze. 

Ted Ligety, who won a medal medal in the combined for the U.S. at the Turin Olympics in 2006, finished fifth.

“It’s always a wild card event,” he said. “You never know exactly what is going to happen.” 

The other U.S. entries struggled with Bryce Bennett coming in 17th and Jared Goldberg placing 36th, despite a strong showing in the downhill. 

“I was looking for a miracle on ice,” Bennett said. “But it didn’t happen.”

Unlike most of the 2,952 athletes competing at the Games, the gold medal isn’t a career-making, life-changing moment for Hirscher. He’s already on top of the sport. Instead, it is a golden exclamation point on his career. 

But does the medal feel different than his slew of World Cup titles? 

“At the moment it’s the same,” said Hirscher, who plans to retire in 2019, “but ask me this question tomorrow.”

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