By Simon Evans
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) – Austria’s Marcel Hirscher and American Mikaela Shiffrin are both hoping to join an elite club of Olympic skiers with victories in the final individual events of the Winter Games on Thursday.
Only three Alpine skiers have won gold medals in three different events at the Olympics — Austrian Tony Sailer, France’s Jean-Claude Killy and Croatia’s Janica Kostelic.
Hirscher has already won in giant slalom and combined at Pyeongchang and could complete his hat-trick in the men’s slalom — his personal favorite event – at the Yongpyang Alpine Centre on Thursday.
Shiffrin won Olympic gold in the slalom (2014) and giant slalom (2018) and her all-round abilities make her a strong contender in the women’s combined at Jeongseon Alpine Centre.
Hirscher has looked unstoppable in the technical events so far and it will be a shock if the winner of the overall World Cup title for the last six years and current table-topper, is beaten on Thursday.
His closest challenger is likely to be Norwegian Henrik Kristoffersen, who is second in the World Cup slalom standings and who won silver in the giant slalom this week to add to his bronze in slalom in Sochi, four years ago.
Kristoffersen says he is not tired of being beaten by Hirscher and offered a reminder that he has forced the Austrian into second place plenty of times on the circuit.
“I have 15 slalom wins in the World Cup and 12 of those he’s been second. I would guess that he’s a little bit sick of being beaten by me as well,” he said.
Shiffrin didn’t compete in the women’s downhill on Wednesday but she has trained on the course and that experience, allied with her slalom skills, should stand her in good stead for the combined.
Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener, who won silver in slalom, will be a strong challenger and while Lindsey Vonn rarely trains in the technical event she will be fired up for what could be her final Olympic appearance.
“I don’t know what the realistic expectations are,” she said after winning bronze in downhill on Wednesday. “I think this downhill is good for me in the combined because it has a lot of air, it’s pretty high speed and I think some of the slalom skiers are a little bit intimidated by that.
“If I get a good time gap after the downhill, then it’s possible to be on the podium. It’s a long shot. But I’ve learned anything’s possible in the Olympics,” she said.
The Alpine events will close on Saturday with the team event, featuring both men and women.
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)