A triumphant Ted Ligety celebrates his thrilling giant slalom victory in the Sochi Winter Olympics on Wednesday. Photo by Olivier Morin

Rosa Khutor, Russia – American Ted Ligety survived a scare to win gold in the men's giant slalom on Wednesday, holding off two charging Frenchmen for his first Olympic title in the discipline he dominates.

The 29-year-old was in a class of his own on the first run down a crisp Rosa Khutor piste and built a 0.93-second lead, but a nervy second leg meant his margin of victory over Steve Missillier was shaved down to less than half a second.

Alexis Pinturault trailed Ligety by 0.64 seconds to win bronze.

Ligety's victory gave the US its first Alpine skiing gold of these Games while France celebrated its first medals of any colour on the slopes of Rosa Khutor.

Ligety, twice a giant slalom world champion and four times the overall World Cup winner in the longer of the two technical events, threatened to turn the race into a one-man show in the Caucasus mountains when he obliterated the field early on.

However, when it was his time to burst out of the start gate second time around the tension was palpable as one mistake on a rutted and bumpy course would have turned almost certain victory into crushing disappointment.

Halfway down, through the trickiest part of the 59-gate maze, Ligety appeared to lose speed with a large sideways slide but he recovered his rhythm to cross the line still in front.

Missillier was only 10th quickest after the first run but laid down a perfect slalom in his second, winning the leg by 0.48 seconds, to ramp up the pressure on the men to follow.

Pinturault was also fast as he moved into second spot, and when Italy's Davide Simoncelli and Czech Ondrej Bank failed to deliver an unlikely French gold appeared possible.

Ligety's second run was only the 14th quickest but it proved just enough.

“We're there, it's beautiful. We knew that after the first leg we had to go full gear, that's what I did and it worked,” Missillier told French TV.

“Vice Olympic champion – it's huge, it has not sunk in yet. Sharing it with Alexis is fantastic.” – Reuters