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Matt jumps out to early lead in Olympic slalom

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Austria’s Mario Matt nears the finish in the men’s slalom at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Austria’s Mario Matt nears the finish in the men’s slalom at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Austria’s Marcel Hirscher nears the finish in the men’s slalom at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Italy’s Patrick Thaler crashes in the first run of the men’s slalom at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Austria’s Mario Matt skis during the first run of the men’s slalom at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — An Austrian is leading the Olympic slalom after the first run, just not the one everyone expected.

Mario Matt glided through the slushy and soft course on Saturday to find his name on top of the leaderboard, while teammate and big favorite Marcel Hirscher struggled.

Matt finished his first run in 46.7 seconds to build a 0.45-second cushion over Andre Myhrer of Sweden after the top 30 racers. Another Swedish skier, Mattias Hargin, and Stefano Gross of Italy were tied for third.

There were still dozens of lower-ranked skiers left to go in the opening run. The second run is scheduled for 8:15 p.m. (1615 GMT).

Usually so smooth, Hirscher never really found his rhythm on the 60-gate course. That’s a surprise for the current World Cup leader in the discipline and the 2013 world champion. He’s 1.28 seconds behind Matt — a big gap to make up.

“Mario was skiing brilliant as well in the trainings and right now I’m having exactly the same gap as in each training run,” Hirscher said. “So that’s my personal maximum today.”

The Olympics haven’t been particularly kind to Hirscher, one of the best technical skiers on the circuit. 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.

Fresh off his gold-medal performance in the giant slalom, Ted Ligety of the United States was back on the course and turned in a solid run in an event that’s not his favorite. He pumped his fist after crossing the finish line and is within striking distance. He was in sixth place, 0.86 seconds behind Matt.

At 34 years old, Matt is undergoing quite a resurgence this season. 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.

Matt also is trying to help Austria extend its lead in the Alpine medal race. The country has seven heading into the final event of the schedule, including golds from Matthias Mayer in the downhill and Anna Fenninger in the super-G. The Americans have won five medals and two golds, one by Ligety and the other from 18-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin in the slalom.

After the top names went through the course Saturday, skiers from smaller countries got the chance to try it out. One of the racers is Hubertus Von Hohenlohe, a 55-year-old German price who skis for Mexico and is competing in his sixth Olympics.

He’s one of the last racers to go and yet will no doubt stand out. Not so much for his skiing, but for his outfit — a flamboyant mariachi ski suit.

Associated Press

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