Austrian ski racer Hannes Reichelt still going strong at 39
BEAVER CREEK, Colo. (AP) — At this precise moment, nothing hurts or aches for Hannes Reichelt.
The 39-year-old Austrian ski racer counts that as a big victory in itself. One of the oldest competitors on the World Cup scene this season, he’s hardly feeling his age — for now.
His goal? Race against these youngsters until the 2021 world championships in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy.
His provision to that goal? Only if he remains competitive. Any signs of slowing down will force Reichelt to reconsider that decision.
To be back in Beaver Creek, makes him feel young again. This was the spot where he won his first World Cup race, a super-G, in 2005. In all, he’s had three super-G victories at the venue and captured his only world championship title on the hill in 2015. Indeed, the slope provides a little fountain of youth for him.
“He looks really young — for his age,” teammate Vincent Kriechmayr cracked after a downhill training run Wednesday where American Ryan Cochran-Siegle turned in the fastest time. “I can learn many things from this old guy. He’s one of the best. He’s an idol for many kids.”
Through all the bumps, crashes and spills, Reichelt still feels remarkably good. Maybe even the best he’s felt in a while. There are no nagging injuries — he broke his toe before last season — and he’s coming off a quality prep period. Plus, that cloud hanging over his head has faded.
Reichelt was recently questioned by authorities investigating a blood doping ring in sports. Reichelt denied wrongdoing in the case known as Operation Aderlass. It was reported Reichelt was questioned over contacting cross-country ski coach Gerald Heigl about training programs. Heigl has been implicated by cross-country skier Johannes Duerr, whose interview with German broadcaster ARD in January fueled the investigation.
In an Instagram post on Oct. 16, Reichelt wrote “the false allegations are officially off the table today.”
Reichelt said Tuesday night in an interview at the team hotel that authorities combed through his phone records for nearly five months before he was cleared.
It was a weight off his shoulders.
“I can focus,” said Reichelt, who finished 1.93 seconds behind Cochran-Siegle’s top time Wednesday. “Sometimes you get the questions and then you’re thinking about that. It’s a little bit always in your head. But it’s away, and it’s much better.”
Missing from the team this season is Marcel Hirscher, who retired after winning eight straight World Cup overall titles.
No Hirscher means more media coverage for the rest of the team.
“Marcel was taking a lot of pressure off our team,” Reichelt said. “But I think the team is good enough to work with the pressure and it’s good for our team that we also have more visibility now.”
These younger racers keep getting faster and making it harder to keep up. Case in point: Reichelt finished 1.94 seconds behind downhill winner Thomas Dressen of Germany in Lake Louise, Alberta, last weekend, and 1.61 seconds in back of super-G winner and teammate Matthias Mayer.
“It’s still fun,” Reichelt said. “This summer was pretty good for me. Hopefully that helps me so that I can compete against the young guys.”
Reichelt has had quite a career since making his World Cup debut on Dec. 7, 2001, in Val d’Isere, France. He’s made 288 World Cup starts and been on the podium 44 times, including 13 wins.
The one prize that’s eluded him, though, is an Olympic medal. His best finish was 10th at the 2006 Turin Games.
Things remaining on his World Cup wish list include: A downhill victory at Beaver Creek (his top finish was second to Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal in 2013) and a win in Val Gardena.
Reichelt gets another shot this season — the Beaver Creek downhill is set for Saturday and the race in Val Gardena later this month.
“That will be nice if it works,” said Reichelt, who won the famed Hahnenkamm downhill in 2014. “But I think it’s not important for the future.”
As for his long-term plans, that’s easy — slow down and enjoy family life. He and his wife welcomed a son in April.
“When you come home, skiing is not the important thing,” Reichelt said. “It’s only family and that’s very nice.”
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