Olympic skiing champion Marcel Hirscher retires
VIENNA (AP) — Marcel Hirscher's biggest wish was to leave Alpine skiing as a winner.
On Wednesday, the two-time Olympic champion from Austria did just that.
Hirscher, the first skier to win eight overall World Cup titles, made a live announcement on Austrian national TV that he is retiring after dominating his sport for more than a decade.
"I always wanted to end my career as long as I am winning races. I didn't want to oversee the moment where things get worse," said the 30-year-old Hirscher, who won Olympic gold in giant slalom and Alpine combined in Pyeongchang in 2018. "My decision is two weeks old. I think it is good the way it is. This feels right."
Hirscher's retirement is no surprise.
At last season's World Cup Finals in March, he openly questioned his own motivation to chase more titles, after expressing similar doubts a year ago.
After marrying long-term girlfriend Laura Moisl and becoming a father in the offseason in 2018, he said "blue and red are not the most important things in life," referring to the colors of the gates in a slalom race.
"Many people didn't take me seriously when I talked about considering retirement," said Hirscher, adding he had a lot of potential projects he could start working on "but nothing is concrete yet."
Traveling the circuit with his own 10-man team, including father Ferdinand as a coach, Hirscher dominated the sport for so long that is certain to be remembered as one of the all-time greats. No other male skier has won more than five overall titles.
Hirscher won eight, despite the fact that he rarely competed in super-G and didn't race a single downhill in his World Cup career. But he excelled in slalom and GS and won a total of 12 season titles in the technical disciplines.
Hirscher won 67 of his 245 World Cup races, trailing only Ingemar Stenmark (86) and Lindsey Vonn (82) on the all-time list.
He also won 14 medals at major championships, including nine golds.
"The reality has become bigger than my dreams when I started skiing as a kid," Hirscher said.
Competing on the World Cup since 2007, Hirscher started winning races in 2009, the same year Hermann Maier — another icon of Austrian ski racing — retired.
Sponsored by the same bank, Hirscher and Maier have since been appearing in many TV commercials together.
One of his most emotional wins was his run to win gold in slalom at the world championships in Schladming in 2013. Austrian men and women had failed to win an individual event at their home event but Hirscher withstood the pressure of the ski-mad nation as he delivered in the concluding slalom.
Hirscher made worldwide headlines in December 2015, narrowly escaping a freak accident during a night slalom in Italy when a drone carrying a TV camera came down and shattered on the icy slope just a few meters behind him.
The incident prompted FIS to ban camera drones from its races.
Known for sticking to one of the toughest workout regimes on the ski circuit, Hirscher managed to steer clear of major injuries during his career — unlike many of his competitors.
"I want to be able to play football with my kid, I want to go moto crossing, I want to go hiking in the mountains," Hirscher said. "Now I can still do all these things."
The Austrian suffered a scaphoid fracture that ruled him out of the world championships in 2011, and he fractured an ankle bone in the buildup to 2017-18, but ended up winning a record 13 World Cup races and two Olympic gold medals that season.
Many skiers reacted to Hirscher's retirement on social media.
"It's been a tough year for ski racing, the legend (Marcel Hirscher) has announced his retirement," American standout Lindsey Vonn, who ended her career in February, wrote on Twitter. "Congratulations on an amazing career my friend. Racing in the same era as you has been an honor. 8 overall titles is a record no one will ever break!"
Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal, who won two overall titles before Hirscher's dominance started, called it "an absolute honor competing with you ... the greatest skier of all times. Congrats on an amazing career."
In a video message shown on TV, Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen said: "It's a pity but it's the right decision: One cannot achieve more than what you have achieved."
Hirscher's departure leaves a huge gap in the Austrian men's ski team, which has struggled to develop other top skiers in recent years. Austrian ski federation president Peter Schroecksnadel said "it's never possible" to really replace a champion like Hirscher, Maier, Benjamin Raich or Stephen Eberharter.
"For sure Marcel leaves a gap but others will develop," Schroecksnadel said.
The search for a new overall World Cup champion starts Oct. 27 with the traditional giant slaloms on the Rettenbach glacier in Soelden, Austria.