By Mark Lamport-Stokes
BEAVER CREEK, Colorado (Reuters) - Reigning champion Marcel Hirscher put himself in pole position to claim his third gold medal of the alpine ski world championships, posting the fastest time in the opening leg of the men's slalom on Sunday.
The 25-year-old Austrian, winner of the overall World Cup title for the past three years, stormed down the icy Birds of Prey piste in a time of one minute, 3.38 seconds, according to provisional results.
That left him 0.28 seconds in front of in-form Russian Alexander Khoroshilov, who won his first World Cup slalom in Schladming last month, and 0.66 clear of Swede Andre Myhrer.
"I didn't push 100 percent," said the 30-year-old Khoroshilov. "I didn't know how much I was in front or behind the other guys but I had to ski more with the line.
"It's a difficult course and it's also really long, so I am really happy with my run, but I will have to try to push hard this afternoon."
Asked to assess Hirscher's opening leg, Khoroshilov replied with a smile: "It's nothing special because Marcel Hirscher is always in front of the others, so it's not surprising."
Hirscher has already won gold in the super combined and team events, along with a silver in the giant slalom on Friday, and will be aiming to leave Beaver Creek with the seventh world championship medal of his career.
The Austrian is also bidding to become the first man to claim successive slalom world titles since Swede Ingemar Stenmark won three in a row -- in 1978, 1980 and 1982.
Olympic slalom champion Mario Matt of Austria, the 18th racer to push out of the start hut in chilly and overcast conditions, skied out of the opening run after straddling a gate on the second interval.
(Editing by Gene Cherry)