Marcel Hirscher knows all about pressure. On the final day of the 2013 FIS World Alpine Ski Championships in Schladming he stood at the top of the slalom run with more than 40,000 noisy home fans hoping to see him land the host nation’s first individual gold of the fortnight. A silver medal winner in the giant two days earlier, Hirscher duly delivered, turning in a fluid, attacking performance. After dominate proceedings in the first run, he then held off Germany’s Felix Neureuther and fellow countryman Mario Matt in the second to win the world title and send the local crowd into raptures.
It was the high point of a very productive season for the skier from Annaberg, near Salzburg, who won five slalom races and one giant to top the overall World Cup standings for the second year running. In ending the campaign with 18 podium finishes in 19 races in his two favourite events, he became the first skier to win back-to-back crystal globes since his compatriot Stefan Eberharter in 2002 and 2003.
Tipped for greatness
Ever since he was strapped to a pair of skis at the age of two by his father Ferdinand, a ski school director, Hirscher has been regarded as one of the biggest hopes of Austrian skiing. The youngster duly proved the pundits right by collecting five Junior World Ski Championship medals – three of them golds, including a slalom and giant slalom double in 2008. He made his Olympic debut as a 20-year-old at Vancouver 2010 but could only finish fourth in the giant and fifth in the slalom. He soon made up for those disappointments by taking the FIS World Cup by storm.
Taking stock of his career at the start of the 2013/14 season, Hirscher said: “It has already been six years, seven months and 10 days since my first World Cup event back in 2007. If my date app has worked it out correctly, the Solden giant slalom will take place on day 2,416 of my career and will be my 107th World Cup race. I've been on the podium 45 times, 18 of those on the top step. The countdown has started and I’m ready to race.”
In the end, he took 3rd place in Solden, behind the USA’s Ted Ligety and France’s Alexis Pinturault, however, he won the first slalom event in Levi (FIN) in November, dominating both runs.
Seen as one of Austria’s biggest medal hopes for Sochi 2014, in both the slalom and the giant, the 24-year-old is hoping that his intensive preparations bear fruit: “At some point you want everything - all the efforts, meetings, fiddling around and training - to have a result on the slopes.” However, despite his desire for further success, he has never lost sight of the reason why he skis: “I just want to have fun skiing. Then I’ll see where I am”.
Hirscher certainly seems to be peaking at the right time. Before the Christmas break, he notched two consecutive giant slalom victories at Val d’Isère and Alta Badia. And so far he has made every podium in 2014, moving to the top of the World Cup overall rankings, and primed for his bid for Olympic gold.
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