KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – Mario Matt of Austria won the men's slalom Saturday, becoming the oldest Alpine champion in Olympic history.
Leading after the first run, Matt glided through the slushy course in a combined time of 1 minute, 41.84 seconds in the last Alpine event of the Sochi Olympics. Austrian teammate Marcel Hirscher turned in a blistering final run to take silver, 0.28 behind, and teenager Henrik Kristoffersen of Norway captured bronze.
Matt, who turns 35 in April, surpasses now-retired Norwegian great Kjetil Andre Aamodt as the oldest Alpine skier to win gold. Aamodt was 34 years, 170 days when he won the super-G at the 2006 Turin Games.
Sixth after the opening run, Ted Ligety of the United States fell back on his skis and went off the course. He was far from alone, though. The course set by Ante Kostelic of Croatia was so tough and tricky that five of the last eight skiers went flying off at some point.
The 1-2 finish by Matt and Hirscher helped Austria win the Alpine medal race with nine, including golds from Matthias Mayer in the downhill and Anna Fenninger in the super-G. The Americans finished with five medals and two golds, one by Ligety and the other from 18-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin in the slalom.
This was a stark contrast to the performance by the Austrians in Vancouver four years ago, when the skiing-rich country had only four medals -- and none by the men
Matt almost looked stunned after crossing the finish line. Once he realized he indeed was the champion, he began to celebrate -- crouching low on his skis and slowly rising up, extending his right ski pole high in the air.
This season has been quite a resurgence for Matt. He won his 14th career World Cup slalom race two months ago in Val d'Isere, France -- his first win in more than two years.
And now this.
But it wouldn't come easy as Hirscher, arguably the best technical skier in the world, turned in a magnificent run just when it looked like his medal chances were all but finished.
Behind by 1.28 seconds after a lackluster opening run, Hirscher resembled the skier who won the world championship and the overall crown in the discipline.
Before Saturday evening, the Olympics hadn't exactly been kind to Hirscher. He finished a disappointing fourth in the giant slalom last Wednesday. Four years ago in Vancouver, Hirscher was fourth in the giant slalom and fifth in the slalom.
His chances didn't look good, even posting between runs on his Twitter account: "For me it's going to be difficult today ..."
Once the elite skiers went through the course for the first run, the stage was set for some competitors from countries not exactly known for skiing. One of the racers was Hubertus Von Hohenlohe, a 55-year-old German prince who skis for Mexico and is competing in his sixth Olympics.
Von Hohenlohe fell on his way down the course, but definitely stood out wearing a flamboyant mariachi ski suit, which was obscured under his racing number. Once down the slope, though, he took off his racing number and wore it as a cape.
"This is the end," Von Hohenlohe said, "for now."