Austrian skier Marlies Schild retired Tuesday, ending a career in which she overcame several serious injuries before setting the women’s record for most World Cup slalom wins.
”The time has come for a new chapter in my life,” the 33-year-old Schild said. ”I have been able to realize the dreams I had as a little girl. I am thankful for that. But your goals change and so do your priorities in life. My biggest wish is to have a family.”
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Schild won her 35th career slalom event in Lienz in December, beating a 19-year-old mark set by Swiss great Vreni Schneider.
Schild earned four crystal globes as the season’s best slalom skier and became the discipline’s world champion in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in 2011. She also won four Olympic medals but failed to take gold.
”It was a great and intensive time,” said Schild, who is in a long-term relationship with 2006 overall World Cup champion Benjamin Raich. ”Garmisch was definitely one of my greatest successes. Benni got injured that week and that made me even more eager to take the gold.”
Schild’s retirement wasn’t unexpected. She announced after her last race at the World Cup finals in March that she would consider ending her career, and she didn’t join her Austrian teammates two weeks ago when they flew to New Zealand for the annual pre-season training camp.
The Austrian likely would have broken Schneider’s record earlier if her career hadn’t been marred by injuries.
Schild missed the entire 2008-09 campaign after breaking her left lower leg two weeks before the season-opening race in Soelden in October 2008, and was out for months after damaging her right knee in pre-race warmups for a slalom in Are in December 2012.
In fact, suffering from knee injuries as a teenager forced Schild to reduce racing in speed events and specialize in the more technical disciplines, slalom and GS.
”I am proud that I managed to fight my way back to the top time after time,” she said. ”I am a fighter and somehow I’ve always found ways to battle back. But now, I can’t ski the perfect slalom anymore. It’s still good, but not as good as in my best years.”
Schild took over from Janica Kostelic as the dominant force in women’s slalom skiing after the three-time overall champion from Croatia retired in 2007.
The Austrian won her first globe that year and repeated the feat in 2008, 2011 and 2012.
”Marlies Schild is an extraordinary athlete,” said Hans Pum, the sport director of the Austrian ski federation. ”She has brought new dimensions to ski racing. Her skiing technique is unique and the way she handled the setbacks in her career is admirable.”
With the soft-spoken Schild, ski-mad Austria is losing one of its most beloved athletes.
Despite her successes on the slopes, Schild has kept a down-to-earth profile and seemed more at ease away from the limelight, though she has been appearing alongside Raich for many years in TV commercials for an Austrian insurance company.
”(She) can be very happy with her career achievements,” Raich said. ”I had the feeling at the end of last season that she might decide this way. It’s not an easy step for her but she can be grateful for everything that was.”
The 36-year-old Raich also considered retirement in the offseason after persistent back problems but has decided to extend his career for at least another season.
Schild has won four Olympic medals, more than any other female skier from Austria. However, a gold medal is missing after her 12-year-career.
In her first year on the circuit, she failed to finish the slalom at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. Four years later, she earned bronze – and a silver in the combined event – in Turin.
In Vancouver in 2010, Schild got silver after being beaten for the title by German rival Maria-Hoefl Riesch, who retired in March.
This year in Sochi, Schild again came runner-up, this time to Mikaela Shiffrin. The American teenager, who has always labeled Schild as one of her idols, is following in the footsteps of the Austrian, having won the world title last year and the slalom World Cup in the past two seasons.