Marcel Hirscher won the men's slalom at the World Championships Sunday
Hirscher is the only Austrian to win individual gold at Schladming over the past fortnight
Germany's Felix Neureuther took silver with Austria's Mario Matt claiming bronze
U.S. star Ted Ligety fails in his bid to win four gold medals following disappointing run
An entire nation stopped Sunday. Four million people sat watching on their television, hearts palpitating with every movement. It was time.
Another 40,000 packed into Schladming with just one hope.
Amidst the roars, step forward Marcel Hirscher, the 23-year-old with the weight of all Austria on his shoulders.
For two weeks the Austrian public had watched and waited for Hirscher to deliver that moment of magic, that performance which would go down in folklore.
On Sunday, faced with his last chance of chance of glory, the home favorite delivered, sealing victory in the men’s slalom to spark scenes of wild celebration.
The 23-year-old came home in an aggregate of 1min 51.03 seconds, 0.42 seconds ahead of Germany’s Felix Neureuther, with fellow Austrian and former two-time world champion Mario Matt, claiming bronze at 0.65 seconds.
“It was very difficult,” Hirscher told reporters. “It was fierce. What can I say, it’s great.
“The atmosphere was sensational, it was great. But I was so focused and just tried not to make a mess. It was anything but easy.”
Hirscher said the lead up to the slalom had been “the toughest week in my life so far”.
“The whole country was watching me, especially for the slalom. Around four million people were watching on television in Austria and 40,000 are here live in the stadium. If I’d straddled, oh my god, they’re going to kill me!
“It’s definitely good to be the world champion here in my home country.”
With the cowbells greeting his victorious arrival at the finish line, Hirscher soaked up the adulation in front of an adoring crowd.
But while Hirscher was left to reflect on his victory, U.S. star Ted Ligety’s bid to win a fourth gold at the championships was ended following an uncharacteristic error.
Ligety, who had won gold in the Super-G, super-combined and giant slalom, was the first man to achieve such a feat since Claude Killy in 1968.
But his failure around a gate and the sight of his skis breaking free, ended Ligety’s attempt to make history.
While Ligety failed, Germany’s Neureuther had no such problems, claiming silver.
“I really tried not to make the same mistakes I’ve done in the past in big events,” he told reporters.
“I didn’t have an ideal run. Marcel did it really great again today.”
Bronze medalist Matt added: “I trusted in myself to do it and I couldn’t do anything but go full out.
“But you can’t race senselessly. I’m very happy with the bronze medal, you have to be happy when you see how tight the field is in slalom.”