Hirscher wins giant slalom world title after plane incident

Hirscher wins giant slalom world title after plane incident

ST. MORITZ, Switzerland — After an incident involving a military airplane delayed the race, Marcel Hirscher ended his long wait to win a world championship title in giant slalom on Friday.

The race’s decisive second run was pushed back 30 minutes after a monoplane in a Swiss Air Force formation display team’s training exercise struck the cable of a moving overhead television camera.

The camera, for filming racers through the finish line, fell into the area where skiers stop. No one was hurt.

“Every day something unexpected can happen but I am sure a lot of people had a lot of luck today,” Hirscher said.

After leading the first run, Hirscher raced through falling snow to hold off unheralded Austrian teammate Roland Leitinger by 0.25 seconds. Leif Kristian Haugen of Norway was another surprise medallist in third, trailing Hirscher by 0.71.

Erik Read of Calgary was the top Canadian in 23rd place. Calgary’s Phil Brown and Toronto’s Philip Trevor didn’t finish.

Neither the 25-year-old Leitinger nor the 29-year-old Haugen has ever finished on the podium of a World Cup race.

Hirscher took silver in giant slalom at the past two world championships — part of Ted Ligety’s streak of winning every gold medal in the discipline since the 2010 Olympics. The American ended his season early because of injury.

“I have waited six years for this victory,” said Hirscher, who turns 28 next month. “I was really, really searching for this.”

It seemed fitting that Hirscher should win a race where low-flying aircraft was a distraction. Last season, the Austrian was almost struck during a World Cup slalom race by a camera-carrying drone which fell from the air and landed on the snow just behind him.

Hirscher was furious afterward, and later finished second in that December 2015 race in Madonna di Campiglio, Italy.

The International Ski Federation quickly reacted by banning the use of drones at races it organizes.

On Friday, Swiss state broadcasters which owned the camera filmed it falling into the empty finish area from a scaffold behind the main grandstand.

“The pilot hit the cable causing it to break and the camera fell into the finish area,” FIS spokeswoman Jenny Wiedeke said in a statement. “The police are going to investigate this further.”

The Swiss military team, made up of Pilatus PC-7 turbo trainers, was taking part in a second day of exercises over the course. The plane which struck the TV equipment later landed safely at nearby Samedan, police said at a news conference.

Fly-overs were cancelled for Saturday and Sunday when mid-race displays were scheduled to entertain big crowds expected for the women’s and men’s slalom races.

Damage to the camera was valued at 250,000 euros ($266,000), race organizers said.

The giant slalom race resumed at 1:30 p.m. (1230 GMT), instead of the scheduled 1 p.m. (1200 GMT).

Chair lifts were stopped as a precaution after the incident and some racers were delayed inspecting the course. They were allowed a further 30 minutes to examine the second run gate-setting.

Hirscher’s win was predicted by many, but Alexis Pinturault’s failure to get a medal was a surprise.

Pinturault, who won three World Cup giant slaloms this season, was third in the morning but then dropped to finish seventh. The Frenchman was in tears while conducting some post-race interviews.

“I can totally understand it,” said Hirscher, who had a series of near-misses at major championships before winning his first medal in 2013, behind Ligety. “I’m very sorry for him.”

Hirscher, who also took silver in combined in St. Moritz, will be favoured to win a third medal in Sunday’s slalom.

Graham Dunbar, The Associated Press

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