Åre (Sweden) (AFP) - In-form Italian speed skier Dominik Paris beat a host of high-class rivals including Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal to claim super-G gold at the World Ski Championships on Wednesday.
Paris, whose only previous world medal was a downhill silver in Schladming in 2013, timed 1min 24.20sec down the testing, 2.2km-long Olympia course in bitterly cold conditions and poor visibility as the race lived up to its billing as one of the most unpredictable at these championships.
The 29-year-old, a massive heavy metal fan whose inspiration is American band Pantera, had arrived in Are, Sweden, in prime form having notched up three World Cup victories this season -- the Bormio speed double and the famed Kitzbuehel downhill for a third time -- along with three other podium finishes.
France's Johan Clarey, at 38 the oldest ever championship medallist, tied for silver with Austrian Vincent Kriechmayr, just 0.09sec off Paris' winning time.
"Yes, I listened to some of my music today, it helps me relax and focus," said Paris, adding he didn't know whether the win would provide the spark for one of his own creations.
"I need some time off to clear my head before writing a new song."
Paris said the course had been "very, very tough and fast and not the conditions I like".
"With this light it's hard to push on the limit, you can't see the bumps and they were often between the gates so I tried to listen to what my feet were telling me.
"It feels great, it's a very special day for me to win such an important race of the season. One of my biggest dreams was to win a medal, and gold is the most important."
- Dream come true for 'Grandpa' -
Clarey's preparations coming into the race had not been perfect as the French speed team were delayed due to heavy snow in Stockholm.
"Papy" (Grandpa), as is he known by teammates, spent a sleepless Sunday night that included an eight-hour train ride to Are.
"It wasn't ideal," he said. "But I was pretty relaxed about it all.
"This year was my biggest chance to medal, for sure. Super-G wasn't expected for me, I started the season with bib numbers around 55. Now it's a dream come true, it's quite surprising, but it's better later than never!"
Kriechmayr admitted to having been "a little bit disappointed".
"But I'm happy with my silver. I didn't lose the gold medal -- it's the world championships, it's only important to be on the podium," he said.
"I'm relieved to be on the podium, I've had a lot worse results this year, and now I'll push for the downhill."
The men's super-G was touted as one of most open disciplines in Sweden, with five different winners on the World Cup circuit this season and a host of podium finishers capable of pushing for a medal.
The now-injured Austrian Max Franz won in Beaver Creek, Norwegian Kjetil Jansrud in Lake Louise, Svindal in Val Gardena, Paris in Bormio and Germany's Josef Ferstl in Kitzbuehel.
- Svindal heartbreak -
Despite the open field, there was heartbreak for Norwegian colossus Svindal, however, who finished in 1.25:12 (+0.92).
"Tough day on the course today," said Svindal, who is to retire after Are.
"Not what I was hoping for... Now aiming for one grande finale on Saturday. The downhill is on!!!"
Hopes were high that the popular Norwegian could strike a fifth world gold as part of a perfect farewell from the pistes after previously triumphing in the downhill (2007, 2013), combined (2009, 2011) and giant slalom (2007).
But it was not to be, and the 34-year-old was left punching his thighs and shaking his be-helmeted head in frustration as he raced through the finish line in front of a large partisan Nordic crowd.
Asked whether he would encourage Svindal not to retire, Clarey said it was not for him to say.
"I'm just a good skier, he's a champion," the Frenchman said.
Svindal's teammate Jansrud, the 2014 Olympic champion and 2017 silver medallist, had to miss Kitzbuehel after breaking two fingers, but with his hand strapped up, he bravely came down the Are course to finish 1.18sec off Paris.
Austrian hopes of a second medal went up in smoke as reigning Olympic champion Mayer and Hannes Reichelt, who won 2015 world super-G gold and 2011 silver, both skied out.