Austria’s Marcel Hirscher locks up World Cup giant slalom title
KRANJSKA GORA, Slovenia — With the fight for the overall championship tightening up, Marcel Hirscher can lock up the World Cup giant slalom title with a race to spare on Saturday.
The Austrian will take an insurmountable lead in the standings if he wins on the Podkoren course in his first race since the Sochi Games. Hirscher currently holds a 95-point lead over Alexis Pinturault, while Olympic and world GS champion Ted Ligety is 100 points back in third.
Even second place would be enough as long as neither the Frenchman nor the American wins the race, but Hirscher said Friday he wasn’t expecting to wrap up the GS title before next week’s World Cup finals in Lenzerheide, Switzerland.
"These two guys would have to do me a giant favor," said Hirscher, who has been on the podium in all six GS races this season while winning two of them — in Val d’Isere and Alta Badia.
Hirscher was hit by a stomach bug after returning from Sochi but resumed training this week in Reiteralm, Austria, where Ligety and American teammate Bode Miller were also preparing.
"Physically I am top fit again," Hirscher said. "Mentally I am very motivated for the last couple of weeks."
The soft snow in Reiteralm was similar to the conditions in Kranjska Gora, where temperatures have not been below zero for the last 10 days.
"We all hope that it turns out well," FIS race director Guenter Hujara said Friday. "Conditions may turn into real warm for the second run."
Ligety, who earned his fourth career GS crystal globe last year, has won one race more than Hirscher this season but failed to score points twice after skiing out in Val d’Isere and Adelboden.
Ligety is a five-time winner in the Slovenian resort. With another victory Saturday he would become the first man to win six World Cup races in one discipline at the same venue.
Hirscher also has a slim chance to clinch the slalom title on Sunday — leading both Germany’s Felix Neureuther and Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen by 50 points — but the Austrian’s main goal for the weekend is closing the 77-point gap to overall leader Aksel Lund Svindal.
Last week, Svindal missed the podium in two downhills and a super-G in Kvitfjell, leaving Hirscher within touching distance. Hirscher usually skips speed events, while Svindal sits out slaloms.
"Aksel has put the ball on the penalty spot. My chances are alive," said Hirscher, who turned 25 last Sunday.
Hirscher is chasing his third straight overall title and would become the first Austrian to achieve the feat. Only Italy’s Gustav Thoeni (1971-73), Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark (1976-78) and American Phil Mahre (1981-83) have done it.
"A third big globe in a row? That would be a dream," Hirscher said. "When I perform like what I am capable of right now, this dream can come true. To be the first Austrian to get the chance for a third straight victory makes me proud."
Hirscher missed out on a medal in the Olympic GS race and was edged by fellow Austrian Mario Matt for slalom gold last month, but winning another overall World Cup would make up for that.
"Success at the Olympics is a snap-shot," Hirscher said. "The overall World Cup will be won by the best ski racer of the entire winter. That’s a different category."