Part of an Austrian women’s and men’s double, Hirner surged from fourth after the ski jumping element to grab gold as she gave everything in the afternoon’s cross-country race.
It was a display that delighted the leading women’s Nordic combined athlete, Tara Geraghty-Moats (USA), who was watching
“She is a deserving first champion for sure, she is one of the top five in the world devoting their life to making history,” said Geraghty-Moats, an Athlete Role Model (ARM) at the YOG.
“This is the first step to inclusion in the Olympic Games. It gives me the chills, we are actually changing the world of sport.”
For Hirner the gold was just reward for having gone for broke as she finished ahead of 2019 junior world champion Miyazaki Ayane (JPN) and German Jenny Nowak.
“The plan for the race was to start slow,” said Hirner, who went out of the gate 23 seconds behind leader Thea Minyan Bjorseth (NOR). “But I saw Jenny [who started the cross-country in second place] go and I had to risk everything by pushing on the first lap.”
While Nowak led at the halfway point, Hirner was crucially in touch and the German could not live with the Austrian’s late burst of speed.
Miyazaki also overtook Nowak with the finishing line in view to grab silver, a result that she had no complaints with.
“It’s a lot of pressure as junior world champion, everyone wants to beat you,” the Japanese athlete said.
For Nowak the bronze was the result of some serious dedication. “I’ve been working the whole summer and season for this,” the German said. “In fact, it’s been six years, training every day.”
In the men’s event, Hirner’s compatriot Stefan Rettenegger led from the front. The Austrian was the only man in the competition breach the 90m mark in the morning’s ski jump before revealing that cross-country is his favoured discipline.
And so it proved. Second-placed Sebastian Oestvold (NOR), starting eight seconds behind Rettenegger, was unable to dent the Austrian’s lead in the opening 2km loop and by the 4km mark he had fallen further behind.
“The strategy was to go out hard so they couldn’t keep up with me,” Rettenegger said. “The race went just as I planned.”
Locked in a battle for silver, Oestvold was unable to hold off the fast-finishing Finn Perttu Reponen.
A winner of several International Ski Federation (FIS) youth cups this season, the Finn had been delighted with his ski jump, despite it placing him seventh at the halfway point.
“I know I am a good skier so I felt really good,” the Reponen said.
While local hero Matteo Baud (FRA) finished an agonising fourth, the man in fifth produced one of the performances of the day. Niklas Malacinski's (USA) previous best individual finish at a global event was 51st at the 2019 Junior World Championships, but now he will return to Colorado confident of a bright future in the sport.