Marcel Hirscher retires from World Cup skiing
Austria’s Marcel Hirscher, a technical specialist who dominated the giant slalom and slalom during the decade, winning an unprecedented eight World Cup championships, announced his retirement on Wednesday.
With 67 World Cup wins, the Austrian is third on the all-time list behind only Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark (86), Vail’s Lindsey Vonn (82) and ahead of Mikaela Shiffrin (60), who now becomes the active leader in victories.
Hirscher also shined on the biggest stages, winning seven gold medals at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships (three in slalom, one each in the GS and combined and two more in the team event). In 2018 in Pyeonchang, South Korea, he ticked off the last to-do item by capturing elusive Olympic gold in the combined and giant slalom.
“Today is the day on which I will end my active career,” Hirscher told a press conference in Salzburg in front of his eight World Cup championship globes, according to Eurosport.
“It’s not a major surprise anymore. The last two weeks have seen a lot of turbulence, but I feel very clearly and there were many reasons … I’m at the pinnacle.
“I always wanted to quit at a moment where I knew I could still win races. Even in 2013, I felt it’s as good a day to stop as any. It doesn’t get any better, but then I carried on.”
At the 2015 worlds at Beaver Creek and Vail, he won the combined and team gold and finished second in the giant slalom behind American Ted Ligety, with whom he had a lengthy rivalry.
Hirscher was a regular fixture for local ski-racing fans at Beaver Creek’s Birds of Prey World Cup stop every December. Fellow Austrian Hermann Maier holds the record for most wins at Beaver Creek with eight, followed by Hirscher, Ligety and Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal, who also retired last winter, with six.
While Hirscher’s announcement was not a bombshell — he had been hinting at it last season — the ski-racing world was abuzz on Wednesday.
Shiffrin wrote on Instagram, “Thank you for the incredible moments in this sport, Marcel. Wishing you all the best for the future … #GOAT (*wipes tear from eye*)”
Vonn, who also capped her historic career in February at worlds, wrote, also on Instagram, “Racing in the same era as you has been an honor. 8 overall titles is a record no one will ever break! Enjoy the time with your family now…. retired life isn’t so bad after all.”
Ligety chimed in of his rival, “@marcel_hirscher pushed the limits beyond what we thought was possible in skiing. He is a true champion.”
Hirscher and Ligety are intertwined in the minds of local ski-racing fans. In nine giant-slalom races from 2010-17 held at Beaver Creek, one of the two ended up on the top step of the podium. Ligety held the edge, 6-3.
In 2011, after the official Birds of Prey giant slalom, Hirscher praised Ligety as “Mr. GS,” in the post-race news conference. The interesting thing was that Hirscher actually beat Ligety that day and added that the American would win the next GS.
Three days later, Ligety did beat Hirscher in the “Val d’Isere, France” GS, relocated to Beaver Creek because of a lack of snow in Europe. The rivalry was on and so was Hirscher’s penchant for talking down his chances in any ski race.
In 2012 and 2013, Ligety blew away Hirscher and everyone else in the giant slalom at Birds of Prey, winning by more than 1 second, an eternity in ski racing.
Ligety won again in 2014, but Hirscher, originally a slalom specialist, was closing the gap in GS, setting up the showdown at the 2015 worlds. In what was likely the best technical race held at Birds of Prey, Ligety surged from fifth place and 0.24-second deficit to eclipse Hirscher and the field for gold.
While the two were best known for their giant-slalom battles, they had an unlikely encounter in the worlds combined in 2015. On an unseasonably warm day at Beaver Creek, Ligety finished 29th and Hirscher 30th after the downhill portion of the race.
Both were roughly 3 seconds off the lead, seemingly out of contention, going into the slalom leg. However, with the flip, Hirscher and Ligety had the firmest track on a course that became slush, and the Austrian rallied for gold with the American taking silver.
Best in the world
Despite Ligety’s success against Hirscher at Beaver Creek and the Austrian’s style of belittling his chances, Hirscher became the dominant racer of his era.
No racer has ever won eight World Cup titles — much less consecutively. The previous record for the men was Switzerland’s Pirmin Zurbriggen (five) and six for the ladies (Austria’s Annemarie Moser-Proll).
Not only did Hirscher eight in a row from 2012-19, but he redefined how to do it. In the years before Hirscher’s run, the overall champion, like Croatia’s Ivica Kostelic (2011), Switzerland’s Carlo Janka (2010) and Svindal (2019), would race in at least four of the five World Cup disciplines — downhill, super-G, GS, slalom and combined.
Hirscher threw that model out the window, specializing in slalom and giant slalom while participating in the occasional super-G or combined. By the second half of his eight-year run, the Austrian was so prodigious in tech events, the points chase wasn’t even close.
From 2016-2019, Hirscher’s “closest” margin of victory was 235 points in 2019 over France’s Alexis Pinturault. As dominant as Stenmark was in tech — the Swede’s record 86 wins came from 46 triumphs in GS and 40 in slalom — he only won three overall titles (1976-78).
Hirscher retires as Austria’s winningest racer, an honor given that the sport in the national pastime in the country. His 67 World Cup wins outpace Moser-Proll (62), Maier (54), Renate Goetschl (46), Benni Raich (36), Stephan Eberharter (29) and Franz Klammer (26), all legends in Austria.
Hirscher’s retirement also opens up the men’s World Cup race to a new generation of racers.
The 2019-20 season starts on Oct. 27 with the traditional opening GS in Soelden, Austria.
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