PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Marcel Hirscher claimed his second Pyeongchang Winter Olympics ski title on Sunday as a doping case involving a Russian curler threatened to cast a fresh shadow over the Games.
While America’s Mikaela Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn licked their wounds, the Austrian Hirscher hit his groove in the men’s giant slalom, winning by an impressive 1.27sec -- five days after his debut Olympic victory in the combined.
Norway’s Oystein Braaten won the men’s freestyle skiing slopestyle and
Norway also triumphed in the 4x10km men’s cross-country relay to reach nine gold medals and draw level with Germany at the top of the medals table.
Martin Fourcade became France’s first four-time Winter Olympic gold-medallist after a mad dash to the line in the men’s 15km mass start biathlon, where he edged Germany’s Simon Schempp in a dramatic photo finish.
But away from the action a fresh doping scandal threatened to set back Russian efforts to return to the Olympic fold after they were banned over a major drugs scandal.
Sources said a curler with the Olympic Athletes from Russia team has been implicated in a doping case involving meldonium -- the same banned substance that earned Russia’s former number one tennis player Maria Sharapova a 15-month suspension.
Russia was banned from the Games after the emergence of systemic doping, but it was allowed to send 168 athletes deemed clean to compete as neutrals.
The International Olympic Committee said if the case was confirmed, it would be considered by the panel deliberating whether to lift Russia’s ban before the end of the Games.
"On the one hand, it is extremely disappointing when prohibited substances might have been used, but on the other hand, it shows the effectiveness of the anti-doping system at the Games," an IOC statement said.
The incident emerged on a day when the Olympic Athletes from Russia won two medals: silver in the cross-country relay and bronze in the men’s aerials.
It has been a long wait for Games gold for Hirscher, who is the dominant figure of World Cup racing but whose best previous Olympic result was slalom silver in 2014.
However, the Austrian has flourished in South Korea. He said his years of success on the World Cup circuit proved vital as he beat Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen and France’s Alexis Pinturault into second and third place.
"After the first run I thought to myself that the confidence is here and speed is here and I can win the race," the 28-year-old said.
Later, Japanese world champion Nao Kodaira stunned the hosts when she dethroned South Korea’s two-time defending gold-medallist Lee Sang-hwa in the women’s 500m speed skating.
"I knew I had the attention of all the Japanese people," said Kodaira, who also broke Lee’s Olympic record.
"All I could do is skate the way I was supposed to skate. I’m glad I did what I practised and prepared."
Biathlon’s Fourcade outstripped ski legend Jean-Claude Killy as the first Frenchman to win four Winter Games gold in the most dramatic of circumstances.
After flinging himself over the line, Fourcade was convinced he had missed out to Schempp -- before the photo finish revealed he had won by mere inches.
"It’s incredible, I can’t answer, I’m still waiting for them to tell me that I’m not the winner," said a disbelieving Fourcade. — AFP