- Associated Press - Saturday, February 22, 2014

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — 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. Another Swedish skier, Mattias Hargin, and Stefano Gross of Italy were tied for third.

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.”

After his run, Hirscher posted on his Twitter account: “For me it’s going to be difficult 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.

“That was definitely a better slalom run than I’ve had in a little while,” Ligety said. “If I have another run like that and can ski inspired and hold off some of those more slalom-oriented skiers, I have a chance at it.

“I’m going to go just as hard and hopefully I can get away with it and come down and be fast.”

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.

The snow was rather soft on a warm afternoon in the mountains, giving many of the top names trouble.

“I talked to Marcel out there. He said, ‘I don’t like the snow that much,’” Mhyrer recounted. “And it is pretty tricky to ski on, so you have to make a clean run.”

Once the elite skiers went through the course Saturday, 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 whoskis 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.

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