Contrary to his talk, Hirscher looks for title No. 5
BEAVER CREEK — He does not talk like he’s the four-time defending World Cup champion.
And winning a fifth overall title this year? The way he speaks, he probably shouldn’t even bother clicking into his skis this winter.
“I am thinking about it,” Austrian Marcel Hirscher said after Day One of downhill training at Birds of Prey in Beaver Creek on Wednesday. “In statistics, I have no chance. No one has done it five times in a row. I have not good chances for this. Otherwise, many more people would have done that before.”
Don’t buy it for a second. Hirscher is not only the king of the slopes but also the master of downplaying his chances. One does not stumble into 31 career World Cup wins, four Cup championships, three slalom crowns, two in giant slalom and four gold medals in two appearances at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.
Hirscher is the favorite for an unprecedented fifth consecutive World Cup title until somebody, anybody proves otherwise. In the four previous seasons, he’s beaten all comers from Switzerland’s Beat Feuz (2012), and Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal (2013 and 2014) to Kjetil Jansrud, also from Norway (2015).
While speed events are the major focus of the Birds of Prey slate, Hirscher is here for Sunday’s GS.
And he’s in midseason form already.
“Ted is the total favorite for this race,” Hirscher said. “He showed us so many times that he can dominate, especially here in Beaver Creek. But I think, yeah, a podium is reachable. A top five would be a goal for me.”
This is where it gets comical with Hirscher. Yes, Ligety has a great history in Beaver Creek, but Hirscher, not Ligety, is defending World Cup giant slalom champion. The Austrian took the globe, winning 690 of a possible 800 points last season in the discipline. France’s Alexis Pinturault was second and Ligety third in the points.
Hirscher won five times in GS last season. His “worst” performances all season were a third-place finish here, a second in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, and a fourth in Meribel, France. (February’s Worlds, when Ligety beat Hirscher in the GS, do not count toward World Cup points.)
So thinking the podium is “reachable” and that a top-five finish is a “goal” for this weekend, candidly stated, is horse feathers. Unless he falls off the Birds of Prey Express lift on Sunday, Hirscher will be on the podium.
Last year when Jansrud was off to blazing hot start — the Norwegian went 3-for-3 his first three speed races — Hirscher said, “I think it is a tough fight. Right now, there is no chance against Kjetil.”
And, well, when the snow settled in March, Hirscher had Jansrud in his rear-view mirror.
Asking the right question
This is Hirscher’s way — slow and steady wins the race. He focuses on GS and slalom, dominating in those disciplines, building an insurmountable lead in points.
The Austrian piled up 690 points in giant slalom and had another 614 on his way to a slalom globe. By simply dominating tech, Hirscher earned 1,304 points in those two disciplines alone to beat Jansrud with 1,288; a total compiled in downhill, super-G, GS and combined.
Hirscher finished 2014-15 with points also in the combined (sixth with 80 points) and super-G (24th, 64), but tech reigns supreme in his regimen.
On the surface, it would seem that Svindal and Jansrud are the greatest threat to Hirscher. The Norwegians race downhill, super-G, GS and the combined. Svindal seems to have bounced back from a ruptured Achilles tendon in fine style, having swept last weekend’s downhill and super-G up in Lake Louise, Alberta, which is no surprise, says Hirscher.
“No, there was no surprise for me. I am super-happy that he is healthy, back at it,” the Austrian said. “Aksel is such a big guy for the whole skiing world, so it is good to have him back. It is nice I know him pretty good. He knows me. We’re good colleagues. It’s always nice to ski against the Norwegians.”
But are we asking the right question? Who really is Hirscher’s competition? If Hirscher’s plan comes to fruition, he would actually love to see Svindal and Jansrud, and everyone else duke it out in the speed events, just as long he’s cleaning up in GS and slalom and picking up a few points here and there in super-G and the combined.
Perhaps his greatest competition for an unprecedented fifth overall crown is not the speed guys, but the tech athletes like Pinturault, Ligety, Germany’s Fritz Dopfer and France’s Thomas Fanara in GS and Germany’s Felix Neureuther, Russia’s Alex Khoroshilov, Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen and Dopfer in the slalom.
Oh, by the way
Another reason to not to buy into Hirscher’s “In statistics, I have no chance. No one has done it five times in a row” comment is that this is a bit of a fib by omission. Yes, no one’s won five in a row. But also no one but him has won four in row.
Before he did it last spring, only Italy’s Gustav Thoni (1971-73), Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark (1976-78) and American Phil Mahre (1981-83) had won the overall three years running.
Yet, as usual, Hirscher will hold his cards close to his vest when it comes to a fifth straight title.
“You never can say something,” he said. “This is like reading a (crystal ball).”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, firstname.lastname@example.org and @cfreud.