Marcel Hirscher: “In PyeongChang, I had nothing to lose”
Marcel Hirscher, the best Alpine skier since 2010 and one of the greatest champions in the history of his sport, is this year on course to win an exceptional eighth consecutive FIS World Cup, in which he has already achieved more than 60 victories. He finally filled an Olympic gap on the snow in Korea in February 2018 by winning two gold medals, in the combined and the giant slalom. Here, he tells olympic.org about his dreams and his Olympic career.
Hirscher, who turns 30 on 2 March, is beating record after record in the World Cup. In 2018, over two seasons, he amassed 15 wins, a total that nobody has ever bettered. When he won the giant slalom and slalom at Adelboden (Switzerland) on 12 and 13 January 2019, that took him to nine career victories on the same course, the redoubtable Chuenisbärgli. Something nobody has ever done at any World Cup venue.
He is stacking up wins in the two disciplines, sometimes by huge margins. He usually ends up being beaten in the first run, and then attacking the course in the second run to leave nothing for his rivals. But he can also dominate both runs of the slalom, as he did in the night race in Schladming on 29 January 2019 in front of 50,000 delighted fans.
He is already so far ahead that he is on course for an exceptional eighth consecutive World Cup victory. Many observers already regard him as the greatest Alpine skier of all time. His Olympic glory in February 2018 in PyeongChang helped reinforce that status even further!
Career progression and Olympic quest
Destined from childhood to become a great champion, he explains: “I dreamt about winning races! But I never dared dream about medals back then.” After winning six Junior World Cup medals and three titles between 2007 and 2009, he made his World Cup debut aged 18 at Lenzeheide, on 3 December 2007, and achieved the first of his 68 wins in the giant slalom at Val d'Isère in December 2009.
At the age of 20, Hirscher competed in his first Games, in Vancouver. “They were an absolutely huge event for me, and I almost won two medals at Vancouver 2010,” he recalls. Four years later, after already winning three world titles and his first two World Cup crystal globes, and en route for his third, he finished fourth in the giant slalom at the Games in Sochi, then had a poor first run in the slalom.
He describes what happens next: “I was 1.28 seconds behind in the first run, so it was impossible to come back from that. Then the course got harder. Many people made mistakes and crashed out. Thank God that second run was so selective, otherwise I couldn’t have made up that time. You’re looking for Olympic champions, not organising school outings.” He moved up from ninth place to win silver behind his compatriot, Mario Matt.
Crowning glory on the Korean snow
After that, Hirscher’s Alpine skiing career went from strength to strength, with consecutive victories in the World Cup to achieve an all-time record for both men and women, giant slalom and slalom wins at the 2017 World Championships, and… then he had to stop. In August 2017, he fractured his left ankle when training and feared that his Olympic winter would be ruined. But in fact it turned out to be the best season of his career! “I was skiing without any pressure,” he explains. “And that was a kind of secret ingredient. I had zero expectations; I just wanted to ski fast. And in some way, that’s exactly what I did.”
He arrived at the Games in PyeongChang in the same frame of mind, feeling no pressure. “I mean, there was the injury a few months earlier, so I really had nothing to lose. PyeongChang was easier than Sochi for me.” He sums up his feelings on winning his first Olympic title after the men’s combined at Yongpyong on 13 February 2018 in just one word: “Done!”
He went on to dominate the giant slalom, and was the clear favourite in the slalom. But Hirscher crashed out in the first run. “I obviously wanted to succeed in another Olympic race, and I was in great shape. But thankfully there was no longer any pressure. Because of that, it was easy to deal with the result.”
“Did these wins change my life? No. I’m still Marcel. But as a ski racer, in one way obviously yes. Since then, I’ve no longer felt ‘obliged’ to win Olympic gold.” But he still regards it as a real accomplishment. “It was a very special addition to what was already a fantastic career. I mean, the Olympic Games! It’s a huge thing for all professional athletes.”
“The most important thing for me is the power to connect people that the Olympic Games have,” the Austrian champion replies when asked about the Olympic values. “It’s great that sport is able to achieve that. Nations, people, athletes all come together just for this reason.” But “for the moment”, he cannot see himself taking part in what would be his fourth Games in Beijing in 2022. He says that he will simply continue his international career for as long as he enjoys it.
One year after his achievements on Korean snow, on 17 February 2019, Marcel Hirscher won his third world slalom title in Åre (Sweden) to equal the great Ingemar Stenmark, the only other slalom athlete to have three wins at the World Championships; and took a seventh global medal, meaning he joins his famous Austrian predecessor, Toni Sailer, with the most men’s titles. He continues to boost his legendary status every day…