YONGPYONG, South Korea -- The man himself said he can't "make magic," but Marcel Hirscher is skiing on a different level compared to the rest of the pack as he secured his second gold medal of these 2018 Winter Olympics in the men's giant slalom.
As you arrived at the YongPyong all-seasons resort, a sign invited you to take a revitalizing "stroll in the woods." The manner in which Hirscher won looked almost leisurely as that as he stormed to gold.
There was no repeat of the shock victory seen in the women's super-G on Saturday when Ester Ledecka came out of obscurity to win. Instead, like the women's giant slalom where Mikaela Shiffrin triumphed, the men's went to form and logic. Hirscher won by 1.27 seconds, the largest margin since Jean-Claude Killy's in 1968. The breathing space served as a rubber stamp of dominance on men's alpine skiing.
"After the first run I thought I had the confidence, I thought go for it 100 percent and that was my mind-set," Hirscher said. "The years of experience are helping me."
Hirscher came to the Games under pressure. When he leaves -- with two events to come -- he will stand aloft the podium of skiing immortality. Regarded as one of the greatest skiers of his generation, the dominant men's ski racer for the last seven or so years, he had six consecutive World Cup titles to his name, 55 world victories but no Olympic gold coming into these Games. Question marks hovered, a legacy perhaps tainted by missing out on a chance to stand atop an Olympic podium.
But then came combination gold on Tuesday. "Gold in the combination was a bit surprise," Hirscher said. A welcome surprise, as no longer would he be asked about whether he would ever win an Olympic gold -- "I'm super happy because now this stupid question is gone away," he said.
Although he already had an Olympic gold next to his name, still the doubters asked whether he had it in him to win gold in the tactical events, the ones he favors. When is a gold not a gold? When you're Hirscher, it seems.
"I can't make magic," Hirscher said. "I actually felt more pressure back in 2013 ahead of the World Championships in Planai, they were half an hour from my home. But I am just a skier, when you are in the starting gates and you leap out, then it's just you and the course."
Under the cloudless South Korean sky, he backed up his combined triumph with a performance of effortless beauty, taking the gold with Norway's Henrik Kristoffersen second and France's Alexis Pinturault third.
Hirscher is now the first man to win combined and giant slalom at the same Games.
It is hard to underestimate how big a deal Hirscher is to Austrian sport. He has the third-most Twitter followers out of their sporting glitterati, behind fellow alpine ski racer Anna Veith and footballer Veli Kavlak. In a country obsessed with skiing, Hirscher is under constant scrutiny. But the way in which he attacked the course, the pressure dissolved and was replaced by sporting prowess.
"He's in his own league, we're fighting for silver and bronze for sure," Kristoffersen said. "He has all the capabilities he needs, the equipment, the experience and the team around him to be that good."
The first run came just after his Austrian teammate Manuel Feller crashed out in the final throes of the course. After securing top spot, he lived and breathed his rivals' runs, wincing as Luca de Aliprandini fell and hammered into the fence. His second run -- clocking in at 1 minute 09.77 -- was enough to see him ease home to gold.
It was a European one-two-three on the podium, but a tale of disappointment for the United States hopeful Ted Ligety. The champion from Sochi 2014, he was aiming to become the first repeat winner since Alberto Tomba retained his title at Albertville in 1992, but Ligety was left 2.44 seconds off Hirscher following his first run. "It didn't feel like I crushed it," he said, admitting his goal of finishing on the podium was "way out" of his range, with too much time to make up. He hoped for something "funky" to happen with wind gusts, but the skiing Gods stayed quiet, leaving him in 15th. Ligety's U.S. teammates Ryan Cochran-Siegle and Tommy Ford finished 11th and 20th, respectively.
Away from Hirscher and history, the alpine skiing remains a fascinating smorgasbord of cultures and backgrounds across the 110-man field, each with personal targets and motivations. Kosovo's Albin Tahiri, a dentist, spoke of his pride at being the first athlete from his country to feature in the Winter Olympics, joking that few would have witnessed his run live given on Saturday Kosovo celebrated 10 years of independence and he expected partying to have carried on long into the night.
Then there was Pakistan's Muhammad Karim who learned to ski at age 4 on wooden skis made by his uncle and Bolivia's Simon Breitfuss Kammerlander who lives in a motorhome. In the stands were the North Korean supporters singing their songs as their two athletes finished last. There were also those a little starstruck. Denmark's Dyrbye Naested was just delighted to be skiing in the same field as his idol, Hirscher. Ligety too has a remarkable story having battled back from a torn ACL and back surgery but was left watching as Hirscher took gold.
"Hirscher crushed it, he's been good all year so it's no surprise," Ligety said. There was a resignation about the rest of the field about the Austrian's success. Norway's Kjetil Jansrud, who won silver in the men's downhill but wiped out here, was not in the least bit surprised to see Hirscher out in front, delighted he had silenced doubters.
"He shows his consistency, he's so strong. I'm pleased he got the tactical gold he wants. He got one in the combination, but he was still facing the media in Austria saying it wasn't the gold he wanted," Jansrud said. "I disagree with that on record, a gold's a gold."
Criticism, question marks over Hirscher's Olympic pedigree can be put to bed. The combination gold eased pressure, this triumph vaporized the albatross that previously hung around his neck. He still has the super-G and slalom to go -- "people are expecting the same things, but I am getting tired," he said -- but regardless of how he does there, he can breathe easy now as a double-Olympic champion.