Marcel Hirscher wins slalom opener
LEVI, Finland -- Marcel Hirscher continued to dominate the slalom on Sunday, edging Austrian countryman Mario Matt to win the World Cup opener.
The 24-year-old Hirscher skied seamlessly throughout the second run to clock an overall time of 1 minute, 45.42 seconds, securing his 10th consecutive slalom spot on the podium. Matt, a two-time world champion, climbed from third place after the first run to second, 0.62 seconds behind Hirscher.
Henrik Kristoffersen, 19, of Norway, was third for his first podium finish.
German Felix Neureuther, who was second after the first run, had an acrobatic fall on his second turn but continued to ski and ended up 27th.
Hirscher won the slalom World Cup title last season as well as his second consecutive overall title. It looks as if he remains in top form ahead of the Olympics in Sochi.
He said he was especially happy to win in Levi, a course that he has struggled on in the past, but tried to play down the huge expectations on him.
"I'm happy right now to be here, to have a podium, to have a victory," he said. "To stand for the 10th time in a row on the podium ... is a really amazing thing but once for sure this row will come to an end, every row comes to an end."
American Ted Ligety, who won the Giant Slalom opening race in Soelden last month, improved from a slow first run and finished 11th, 1.96 seconds behind Hirscher.
Ligety, who put a lot of focus on slalom in preseason training in an attempt to take a shot at an overall World Cup title, said he needs to improve if that strategy is to play out.
"I feel like in the second run I skied a little bit more like I should be skiing," he said. "But still far from being what I really need to do in slalom."
"I need to be scoring in the top five to top three, so I need to up it in this if that's going to be a meaningful route to getting me enough points," he added.
Matt, 34, said he was happy to be back on the podium.
"I have felt really good in the last weeks and months," he said. "I'm really happy about the result, it was perfect."
Kristoffersen said he was emotional to be on the podium for the first time and that the Norwegian team has worked hard to improve its level of skiing.
"It's a big step in the right direction," he said. "This is a great day, but I still have a long way to go."
French 22-year-old Alexis Pinturault, who was sixth overall last season with three victories in three different disciplines, skied out on the second run.
Olympic bronze medalist Andre Myhrer of Sweden, last year's winner in Levi, committed a major mistake at the end of his first run and didn't qualify for the second run. Countryman Mattias Hargin finished fifth.
The next event on the World Cup circuit is in Beaver Creek, Colo. on Nov. 26.