Sweden's Sara Hector wins gold in women's giant slalom at Beijing Olympics

BEIJING -- Swedish skier Sara Hector capped a recent career resurgence in the best way possible, winning the gold medal in the women's giant slalom at the Beijing Olympics on Monday for her first individual victory at a major championship.

The 29-year-old Hector finished two runs down a course known as The Ice River at the Yanqing Alpine Skiing Center in an unofficial combined time of 1 minute, 55.69 seconds. She was quickest down the hill in the first run, and an eighth-fastest second leg was enough for her to hold on.

Federica Brignone of Italy was 0.28 seconds slower over the two legs to add a silver medal to the bronze she won in the GS at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games behind champion Mikaela Shiffrin, who fell during Monday's opening run hours earlier and was eliminated.

Lara Gut-Behrami of Switzerland was third, 0.72 behind Hector, and she now has another bronze to go alongside the one she collected in the downhill at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

When Hector crossed the line, she raised her ski poles overhead and yelled to celebrate, before being embraced by Brignone and Gut-Behrami.

Hector earned her first World Cup race win all the way back in December 2014 -- and then waited seven years to get No. 2 this past December. And all of a sudden, as though she had discovered the secret to success, she tacked on Nos. 3 and 4 in January. Each was in a giant slalom.

Now, in February, Hector has her most important triumph of all.

Her past record at the top events in Alpine skiing? In four races across two previous trips to the Olympics, Hector never fared better than 10th place. And in 10 individual races across six world championship appearances, the best she did was coming in seventh. (Although she did share in three team event medals at worlds.)

After winning two weeks ago at San Vigilio di Marebbe, Italy, Hector tried to explain this recent run that put her atop the World Cup giant slalom standings heading to Beijing.

She said she is "easily wound up'' and that it created problems for her. But lately, Hector said then, she is able to "really feel calm'' and that lets her focus better.

"It took me a long time to understand what I need,'' she said then. "Now I know much more about what I need, and that's been cool to find out.''

Monday's race was delayed for about 15 minutes when American Nina O'Brien, who was sixth fastest in the opening run, slid across the finish line, screaming in pain, after stumbling through the last gate as her skis crossed in front of her. She was checked by medical personnel and U.S. team staff before being taken away on a sled.

U.S. ski team spokesperson Megan Harrod said O'Brien was "alert and responsive.''

The skier right before, Tessa Worley of France, owner of four world titles and currently second in the World Cup GS standings, crashed on the lower part of the course, hitting a gate as she was attempting a left turn. She spun round, lost a ski and slid down the hill before rising and making it the rest of the way to the bottom.