A father now, Hirscher feeling less pressure on the slopes

              FILE - In this Feb. 18, 2018, file photo, Austria's Marcel Hirscher competes during the men's giant slalom at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. For season after season, Hirscher felt pressure to constantly defend his overall World Cup title. This season, the weight isn't as much as he tries to capture his eighth straight crystal globe. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno, File)

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. (AP) — There’s been a mountain of pressure on Austrian standout Marcel Hirscher for as long as he can remember: To capture that elusive Olympic gold medal. To keep his overall World Cup title streak going . To remain so dominant.

Heading into this season, the weight doesn’t seem so heavy anymore.

Hirscher earned that Olympic gold last February — two, actually — and the burden to win an eighth straight overall title has been mitigated by recently becoming a father. That’s changed his entire outlook, even to the point where the 29-year-old vows to take a hard look at his future on the slopes once the season concludes.

Then again, he’s hinted at stepping away before.

“I want to see this little guy growing up,” said Hirscher, who will race a World Cup giant slalom this weekend in Beaver Creek , Colorado. “The hundredths of a second in a race? That is not the most important thing in my life. They have been very important and they are still important. But that’s not the most important thing.

“It’s definitely a big point on my list at the end of the season, where I have to make a decision.”

One of Hirscher’s longtime adversaries, American racer Ted Ligety, has a young son, too. It could set up another version of their rivalry in, say, 2038.

Hirscher vs. Ligety, chapter two.

“Hopefully not,” said Hirscher , whose wife, Laura Moisl , gave birth in early October. “Maybe golfing or something.”

So no ski racing?

“It’s his choice, but ski racing with all those injuries … I’m super happy with no injuries really,” Hirscher said. “If you see other colleagues, it can be for the rest of your life a tough situation.”

Hirscher recently won a World Cup slalom race in Levi, Finland , showing that his training is trending in the right direction. It’s been a different sort of prep period for him, with the arrival of his son.

“Now I have two businesses to be good in,” Hirscher said. “This is definitely a big change. It’s a really good change.”

About the seven straight title streak: Should it end this season or next or farther down the road, he doesn’t think that will be a bad thing.

“Because if it is not possible anymore, this crazy pressure of winning this big crystal globe has gone away. Maybe 300 or 500 pounds off my shoulder,” Hirscher said. “It could be amazing, or even a present.”

Still, he’s expertly navigated the tension. His strategy is simple: Don’t think too far ahead, just race to race.

“It’s sort of a mind game, where I can just try my best,” Hirscher said. “If it is not working I can always say to myself, ‘Hey, I’ve done everything.’ The preparation, the dry-land training, I’ve tried every day to give out the maximum. The other side is, if there’s someone else that can do it better, say hello to myself and let’s try it.”

One big burden was lifted at the Olympics. For all his accomplishments — 59 World Cup wins, four world championship titles — he hadn’t won a Winter Games gold medal. At the Pyeongchang Olympics, he followed a win in the combined with another in the giant slalom.

“For the media stuff, it changed a lot,” said Hirscher, who also took home silver in the slalom from the 2014 Sochi Games. “For me personally, it was more like, ‘OK, I’m very thankful that I reached this and won this gold medal.’ But for me personally it was more fascinating to win the seven consecutive big crystal globes.

“All those years I’ve always said the same sentence about the same question: What has more worth, the Olympic gold medal or big crystal globe? It’s the same answer.”

The titles, of course.

However, it’s been difficult to reflect on all that hardware or even properly enjoy it.

“It’s straight through from when summer training starts, to preparation and the first races,” said Hirscher, who’s won four World Cup competitions at Beaver Creek. “The clock is back at zero-zero and a new season begins.”

Given all his accomplishments, Hirscher’s name gets mentioned next to Austrian greats such as Hermann Maier and Franz Klammer.

“It is not bad,” Hirscher said of the comparisons. “But it is not the most important thing. The most important thing is to be happy, to enjoy what I’m doing right now, that my family is healthy, that I’m healthy and that we are having a good time. That is the most important thing.”