It was a narrow win for Hetland, who pushed from third to first in the final few metres to finish the dramatic race in two minutes 56.9 seconds.
Germany's Peter Schlickenrieder took the silver after crossing the finish line just one tenth of a second behind the reigning world champion.
Cristian Zorzi of Italy claimed the bronze with a time of 2:57.2 minutes.
"It was perfect for me in the last 400 metres"
Tor Arne Hetland
It was an impressive win for Hetland, having started in second place before dropping to third.
But the Norwegian came back to surge past leader Zorzi in the final 100 metres.
Schlickenrieder then did the same thing, edging the Italian by the tip of his skis.
"It was perfect for me in the last 400 metres," said Hetland.
"I knew there was enough space in the curves to attack so I saved all my strength for the finish."
The 71-man field had been narrowed during early morning qualifying sessions.
The fastest 16 skiers moved into four elimination heats, where the top two skiers from each four-person heat then advanced to the semi-finals.
The top two skiers in each semi then went through to the four-person final.