Hirscher calls time on sensational career

Double Olympic gold medallist Marcel Hirscher from Austria retires from skiing after winning eight consecutive World Cup overall titles

Double Olympic champion Marcel Hirscher has retired from alpine skiing.

At a pre-arranged news conference in Salzburg on Wednesday (4th September), screened live on Austrian television, the 30-year-old ended months of speculation by announcing his intention to quit the sport with immediate effect.

"Today is the day I will end my active career" - Hirscher at retirement press conference.

He did so after another stunning season in which he retained his slalom title at the World Championships, and claimed an unprecedented eighth consecutive World Cup overall crown.

"I felt pressure all the time"

The Hallein native has long had to deal with the weight of expectation.

He told Olympic Channel, "Growing up, I felt pressure all the time. Being the best in the ski club, being the best of the area, being the best of Austria."

Born within 40km of Austria's previous hero of the slopes, Hermann Maier, Hirscher went on to match and then better his compatriot's achievements.

It was in Maier's hometown of Flachau that Hirscher competed at his first World Junior Championships, winning giant slalom gold and slalom silver in 2007 days after turning 18.

The week after, Hirscher finished 24th on his World Cup giant slalom debut in Lenzerheide.

He gained more World Cup experience the following season, clinching his first top 10 finish in the Adelboden slalom before winning slalom and giant slalom gold at the world juniors in Formigal, Spain.

The young Austrian then stepped onto the World Cup podium twice in the space of six days, finishing third in the Kranjska Gora and Bormio slaloms.

Marcel Hirscher (R) with winner Reinfried Herbst after his third place in the Bormio slalom on 15 March 2008
Marcel Hirscher (R) with winner Reinfried Herbst after his third place in the Bormio slalom on 15 March 2008Marcel Hirscher (R) with winner Reinfried Herbst after his third place in the Bormio slalom on 15 March 2008

More solid performances in the 2009 season saw him selected for Austria's World Championship team in Val d'Isere while still only 19.

He was in medal contention in the super combined after a good downhill run.

But, in what would turn out to be a rare disappointment at the Worlds, he crashed out of the slalom leg.

Marcel Hirscher reacts after crashing out of the Super Combined slalom at the 2009 World Championships in Val d'Isere
Marcel Hirscher reacts after crashing out of the Super Combined slalom at the 2009 World Championships in Val d'IsereMarcel Hirscher reacts after crashing out of the Super Combined slalom at the 2009 World Championships in Val d'Isere

He was then fourth in the giant slalom, missing a medal by just seven-hundredths of a second, before straddling a gate in the first run of the slalom.

Hirscher returned to the French resort with a bang 10 months later, taking second place in the super combined before securing his first World Cup victory in the giant slalom.

Marcel Hirscher celebrates his first World Cup win in the Val d'Isere giant slalom on 13 December 2009
Marcel Hirscher celebrates his first World Cup win in the Val d'Isere giant slalom on 13 December 2009Marcel Hirscher celebrates his first World Cup win in the Val d'Isere giant slalom on 13 December 2009

In his final race before heading to the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, Hirscher claimed his second World Cup giant slalom at Kranjska Gora.

He competed in two events in Whistler and just missed out on the medals on both occasions.

Then 20, Hirscher was fourth in the giant slalom before finishing fifth in the slalom.

A long-awaited World Cup slalom victory came at Val d'Isere in December 2010, but Hirscher's season was ended prematurely when he broke his ankle the week before the World Championships.

World Domination

Hirscher's return for the 2012 season was the springboard for a remarkable period of dominance.

He was on the podium 14 times in 23 races, winning nine of them as he took the World Cup overall and giant slalom titles.

The Austrian won three consecutive races twice during the season.

Marcel Hirscher on his way to his sixth World Cup win in eight races in the Bansko slalom on 19 February 2012
Marcel Hirscher on his way to his sixth World Cup win in eight races in the Bansko slalom on 19 February 2012Marcel Hirscher on his way to his sixth World Cup win in eight races in the Bansko slalom on 19 February 2012

He was only getting started

In 2013, he had six wins out of no fewer than 18 podium appearances in 19 races as he retained his World Cup overall title and claimed his first slalom crystal globe.

After a gap of four years, he returned to the World Championships which were held on home snow in Schladming.

Having helped Austria to gold in the team event, Hirscher took silver in the giant slalom behind Ted Ligety.

He then won his first slalom world crown, leading after the first run before going faster than any of his main challengers to take a commanding victory.

Hirscher had well and truly made the step from talented youngster to world beater.

Marcel Hirscher poses with his one silver and two gold medals from the 2013 World Championships in Schladming
Marcel Hirscher poses with his one silver and two gold medals from the 2013 World Championships in SchladmingMarcel Hirscher poses with his one silver and two gold medals from the 2013 World Championships in Schladming

Sochi Setback

With Hirscher continuing to reign supreme on the World Cup circuit, all the pressure was on him ahead of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.

He was consistent rather than spectacular in the 2014 season, finishing on the podium with great regularity but winning just four races before the Games.

That said, he was still the favourite for gold in both the slalom and the giant slalom.

He just missed out on a medal again in the giant slalom, finishing fourth for the second consecutive Games.

It looked like he might go home empty-handed once more after only placing ninth on the first run of the slalom.

But he finally produced his best on the second run, taking silver with only first-run leader Mario Matt able to beat his aggregate time.

Hirscher had his first Olympic medal, but he would have to wait four years for another chance at gold.

Rewriting history

As if stung by that Sochi disappointment, Hirscher quickly set about bolstering his reputation as the greatest technical skier of his generation.

The 2015 season was his best yet although it could have been even better.

At the World Championships in Vail and Beaver Creek, Hirscher won his second team gold with Austria.

He claimed his second title in Colorado in the super combined, taking advantage of going first on clean snow in the slalom leg to move up from 30th in the downhill.

Hirscher led after the first run of the giant slalom, but had to settle for silver after old rival Ligety's blistering second run saw the American snatch victory.

He took a big advantage into the second run of the slalom, but lost time on the top half before straddling a gate as France's Jean-Baptiste Grange regained the title.

In the World Cup, Hirscher claimed eight wins to secure the slalom and giant slalom titles in the same season for the first time.

He also became the first man in history to collect four overall crystal globes.

Early in the 2016 season, Hirscher was lucky to escape injury after a freak incident in the Madonna di Campiglio slalom.

A TV camera drone fell just behind him on his second run with Hirscher clearly stunned and angry afterwards.

The FIS quickly banned the use of drones on the course.

And Hirscher, who still managed to finish second, was later able to see the funny side.

Hirscher went on to win his fifth consecutive overall title and the giant slalom crown, but was second in the slalom behind Henrik Kristoffersen.

The Norwegian became his biggest rival but he had little response in 2017 as Hirscher reclaimed the slalom title and retained his overall and giant slalom crowns.

And the Austrian was almost unbeatable at the World Championships in St Moritz although history repeated itself, to his detriment, in the super combined.

Marcel Hirscher poses with his silver and two gold medals at the 2017 World Championships in St Moritz, Switzerland
Marcel Hirscher poses with his silver and two gold medals at the 2017 World Championships in St Moritz, SwitzerlandMarcel Hirscher poses with his silver and two gold medals at the 2017 World Championships in St Moritz, Switzerland

Just like Hirscher two years previously, Luca Aerni was 30th after the downhill and made good use of going first in the slalom run to set a tough target.

Hirscher was 28th after the downhill but finished just one-hundredth of a second outside the Swiss who took gold.

Aerni denied him a rare World Championship treble as he won the giant slalom before easing to victory in the slalom.

That took his tally to six gold and three silver medals at World Championships less than 12 months before PyeongChang 2018.

Golden glory

Hirscher could not have had a much worse start to the 2018 Olympic season.

On his first day of training in August, he fractured his ankle which left him short of his best at the start of the campaign.

But after finishing 17th on his seasonal debut in Levi, Finland, Hirscher was better than ever.

He won 10 of his next 15 races - he went on to equal the record of 13 World Cup victories in a season - to make him the hottest of favourites going into his third Olympic Games.

The pressure on him was intense but, like some of his fellow skiers, he had some canine assistance.

Paws, and rewind: How the Pets of PyeongChang's stars relax

Paws, and rewind: How the Pets of PyeongChang's stars relax

Any fears that Hirscher might fail to rise to the occasion were quickly dispelled.

A scorching slalom run saw him take the combined title and a long overdue first Olympic gold medal.

He then dominated the giant slalom to claim his second gold and, despite skiing out of the first run of the slalom, Hirscher finally had the prize he desired most.

The final season

Having won everything there is to win in his sport, Hirscher would have been forgiven for taking his foot off the pedal after his PyeongChang exploits.

Despite also becoming a father in October 2018, he was certainly talking a good game at the start of the 2019 season.

He backed up those words with actions, winning eight of his first 12 races to take a giant leap towards retaining his three crystal globes.

After victory in the Schladming slalom, he went to the World Championships in Are to defend his slalom and giant slalom titles.

He had to settle for silver behind Kristoffersen in the giant slalom, but easily won the slalom to claim Austria's only gold of the event ahead of compatriots Michael Matt and Marco Schwarz.

But after that third slalom world title - his seventh in all putting him joint-top on the all-time list with fellow Austrian Toni Sailer - he admitted that these would probably be his last World Championships.

Hirscher's famed laser-guided focus appeared diminished after Are as he failed to win any of the remaining seven World Cup races.

While he did enough to win three crystal globes again, for the third year in succession, the rumours surrounding his future continued to grow and he was scheduled to announce his future plans at the start of August.

That was delayed until early September, but his decision to skip Austrian summer ski training after trying out a MotoGP racing bike gave strong hints that he would be hanging up his skis.

The legacy

Hirscher will go down as the greatest technical skier of his generation.

Among men, his World Cup wins tally of 67 is second only to Ingemar Stenmark - another double Olympic champion - on 86.

Comparing the pair's achievements is difficult, not least because World Championships were held every four years when the Swede started competing before switching to every two years in the twilight of his career.

Stenmark was also banned from defending his giant slalom and slalom titles at the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics after accepting personal endorsement payments.

But he is full of admiration for his successor on the slopes, praising Hirscher's "good mentality and good technique".

Hirscher in numbers

Olympic medals: 3 - two gold (2018 combined, 2018 giant slalom), one silver (2014 slalom)

World Championship medals: 11 - seven gold (three slalom, one giant slalom, one combined, two team), four silver (three giant slalom, one combined)

World Cup podiums: 138

World Cup wins: 67 - 32 slalom, 31 giant slalom, one Super-G, three parallel

World Cup titles: 20 - eight overall, six slalom, six giant slalom

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