Myhrer wins Olympic slalom at 35 as favorites ski out

CORRECTS NAME TO KANG SONG IL FROM HANG SONG IL - Kang Song Il, of North Korea, skis during the first run of the men's slalom at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

By GRAHAM DUNBAR, AP Sports Writer
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — The shock wasn’t only about who won the Olympic gold medal in the men’s slalom, it was also about who failed to even finish the race.
Andre Myhrer, a 35-year-old Swede who took bronze in the event eight years ago in Vancouver, was the unlikely champion on Thursday. But it was Marcel Hirscher and Henrik Kristoffersen — the best slalom skiers on the World Cup circuit — that couldn’t complete two runs to give themselves a chance at the title.
“To be able to do this after the season they have had is, of course, amazing for me,” Myhrer said.
Hirscher skied off course in the opening run, while Kristoffersen set the fastest time. But the Norwegian couldn’t make it all the way down the piste on the second run, leaving Myhrer at the top of the podium.
Both Hirscher and Kristoffersen won Olympic medals in this event four years ago in Sochi. They also combined for 1-2 finishes in four of the eight World Cup slaloms this season.
Myhrer watched in the finish area as Kristoffersen, holding a 0.21-second advantage out of the starting gate, skied out early in the second run.
That allowed Ramon Zenhaeusern of Switzerland to take an unexpected silver medal, 0.34 seconds behind Myhrer. The tallest man in the race at 6-foot-7 (2 meters) threw his ski poles in the air after seeing he had taken the lead several racers before Myhrer completed his second run.
Bronze medalist Michael Matt of Austria was 0.67 behind Myhrer’s two-run time of 1 minute, 38.99 seconds.
Matt, whose brother Mario won slalom gold four years ago at the age of 34, said he had given up hope of a medal before Kristoffersen started.
“I got my backpack and said, ‘That’s it,’ because Henrik is really fast and skis very safe as well,” said Matt, who had been 12th-fastest in the first run. “I thought it was over.”
Kristoffersen is so safe he had top-three finishes in all eight World Cup slaloms this season. He won one race, while Hirscher won six times and also completed the rest safely.
“It’s better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all,” Kristoffersen said.
Hirscher fell short in his quest for a third gold medal at the Pyeongchang Olympics. The Austrian great also won the combined event and the giant slalom, when Kristoffersen took silver.
“I had already really a bad feeling about the whole situation,” Hirscher said, adding he has had some “really bad training days here.”
Myhrer became the second 35-year-old Alpine skier to take gold at the Pyeongchang Games. Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway, barely two weeks older than Myhrer, won the downhill and set a record as the sport’s oldest male Olympic champion.
Thursday’s victory is a remarkable turnaround for Myhrer, who left the 2014 Sochi Olympics furious after giving up his chance at a medal on a difficult course.
“It was a tough Olympics for me,” Myhrer said, reflecting on what happened in Russia. “I knew I would have my chance again.”
For the second straight Olympic slalom, he was second-fastest in the first run. But four years ago he fell in the unorthodox second-run gates set by Ante Kostelic, whose son Ivica was a four-time Olympic medalist from Croatia.
“I just (fell) apart in the second run,” Myhrer said. “I couldn’t really handle it with the condition I had with my (injured) knee.”
The veteran of four Olympics and more than 14 years of World Cup racing handled it better on Thursday, even as more than half of the 106-man lineup joined Hirscher in failing to finish the first run.
Among the early exits on a clear sunny day was Dominic Demschar of Australia, who straddled the first gate with one ski on either side of the post. Two-time world champion Jean-Baptiste Grange of France lost a ski in a crash.
Two North Korean skiers wearing bib Nos. 107 and 108, Kang Song Il and Choe Myong Gwang, earned a second run. Only Choe completed the race, more than 43 seconds behind Myhrer as the slowest of the 43 finishers.
A strange race ended with the 25-year-old silver medalist citing the winner as one of his heroes.
“He is also a tall man,” Zenhaeusern said of the 6-foot-3 (1.90-meter) Myhrer, “and a really good skier, and I like him a lot.”
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AP Sports Writer John Leicester contributed to this report.
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More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org