Marcel Hirscher

Hirscher storms back to win World Cup GS, Ligety takes 7th (video)

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BEAVER CREEK, Colo. (AP) — Lounging on the couch with his broken left ankle in a cast, Marcel Hirscher felt something he hadn’t in a long time — no pressure.

Now that he’s back on the slopes with his ankle mended and returning to his winning ways, that familiar tension has returned.

The six-time overall World Cup champion can’t escape the one glaring omission from his impressive resume: an Olympic gold.

He insisted he doesn’t give it a second thought heading to PyeongChang. Still, all eyes will be on him constantly between now and February.

Especially after a performance like Sunday’s. The Austrian standout stormed back from a first-run deficit to win a World Cup giant slalom race on an afternoon when rival Ted Ligety struggled.

Hirscher finished in a combined time of 2 minutes, 37.30 seconds to show he’s getting back up to speed after breaking his ankle in a training accident in August. Henrik Kristoffersen of Norway was second, 0.88 seconds back, and first-run leader Stefan Luitz of Germany took third.

“Today I thought: ‘OK, let’s go for it. Let’s give it a try. Let’s see what’s possible,’” Hirscher said. “So unexpected was never a win before.”

Sitting next to him, Kristoffersen couldn’t help but chime in.

“I’m not surprised,” Kristoffersen said.

“Come on, Henrik,” Hirscher responded.

It was Hirscher’s 23rd World Cup giant slalom win, which ties him for third most among men with Switzerland’s Michael von Gruenigen. That leaves him trailing only Ingemar Stenmark (46) and Ligety (24) in the discipline.

“Marcel’s a great athlete,” Kristoffersen said. “He’s making sure that everything is lined up as good as possible for himself. That’s one of the reasons he has won six overall globes in a row. Of course, he’s mentally strong.”

These days, he’s getting physically strong, too. He hardly feels any discomfort in that ankle, especially on race day.

“If you’re so pumped, with this high adrenaline, it doesn’t hurt,” said Hirscher, who was 17th in a slalom in Levi, Finland, on Nov. 12. “It is completely free of pain. I didn’t think about it. Maybe during training sometimes I think about it or feel a little pain. But it is not worth talking about it.”

Hirscher’s not the only top GS racer on the mend. Ligety showed signs of returning to form following surgery to fix herniated disks in January. He was second after the first pass through the course, but he made several small mistakes on his final run to slip to seventh.

“I’m happy with how I’ve been skiing and how my body feels. That’s good,” Ligety said. “But Beaver Creek has been a really good hill for me. I expected a lot more.”

As a whole, the Americans turned in a lackluster performance on their home course. In three races, the top finish was by Ligety. Tommy Ford had a career-best 10th-place World Cup finish Sunday.

“That was much better skiing,” Ford said. “It was cool to do some good arcs.”

Starting third-to-last in the final run, Hirscher powered his way down the course to knock Kristoffersen from the top spot. Ligety couldn’t catch him and neither could Luitz, who picked up his fifth World Cup podium finish.

Luitz was impressed with Hirscher.

“He’s unbelievable. He was injured and trained like two weeks, maybe less, and just amazing how he came back,” Luitz said. “He’s the best skier in the world.”

Hence, the pressure that only figures to escalate as the Olympics near.

“The first day I was able to walk without the cast and no crutches, the pressure began to pop up again,” Hirscher said. “But especially after today, it is completely the same (pressure).

“The last month was really hard. Just skiing, skiing, skiing, as many runs as possible, trying to gain the speed. … I improved myself through every turn.”

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Felix Neureuther wins season-opening World Cup slalom

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LEVI, Finland (AP) — Felix Neureuther of Germany won the season-opening men’s World Cup slalom on Sunday after first-run leader Dave Ryding skied out.

Aiming to become the first British skier to win a race in the 50-year-history of the Alpine skiing World Cup, Ryding put in a dominant performance.

He led second-place Neureuther by 0.14 seconds after the opening leg and stretched his advantage to 0.51 in the final run before a mistake threw him off the course. He lay on his back in the snow for several seconds before getting up and skiing down.

It was the second time that Ryding came close to a World Cup triumph. He also led after the first run of the slalom in Kitzbuehel in January before finishing runner-up to Marcel Hirscher.

Ryding, who turns 31 next month, enjoyed his breakthrough on the World Cup last season, four years after winning the slalom title of the lower-tier Europa Cup circuit.

“I have been very lucky that Dave went out. He was extremely fast,” Neureuther said after finishing in a combined time of 1 minute, 42.83 seconds to beat Henrik Kristoffersen of Norway by 0.37 and Mattias Hargin of Sweden by 0.45.

“Winning my first race being a father makes it even more special,” said Neureuther, whose partner Miriam Goessner, a professional biathlete and cross-country skier, gave birth to daughter Matilda last month.

It was Neureuther’s 13th career victory but first since winning a slalom in Yuzawa Naeba, Japan, in January 2016. The 33-year-old German has been hindered by persistent back problems in recent seasons.

Hirscher was 1.32 behind in 17th spot in an unexpected appearance just 87 days after breaking his left ankle. The Austrian six-time overall champion only resumed training earlier this week.

Hirscher’s mishap occurred in August on his first day back on snow in the offseason. He was back on skis in early October but was forced to take another four weeks off because his ankle was still hurting too much.

“The first run was super, that went sensationally well,” said the Austrian, who was in fourth spot after the opening leg before several mistakes on the final run cost him.

“In the end I hoped for a better result,” Hirscher said. “But I have a lot of motivation to get my speed back. Today showed me that at the moment I am still lacking the class of the other guys.”

The race in Finnish Lapland was the first of the Olympic season after a giant slalom in Austria was canceled because of bad weather two weeks ago.

The men’s World Cup continues with speed races in Lake Louise, Alberta, on Nov. 25-26.

Marcel Hirscher sets return from broken ankle

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Marcel Hirscher, the world’s best Alpine skier the last six years, will reportedly return to racing Sunday from a broken left ankle suffered in August.

Hirscher will start the first World Cup race of the season, a slalom in Levi, Finland, according to Austrian media. He indicated on Facebook that he was flying to Levi on Friday.

The Austrian made the decision after just five days of slalom training following recovery from the Aug. 17 training accident that did not require surgery, according to broadcaster ORF.

It was thought that Hirscher could have been out until December when he was first injured (video here). After Levi, the World Cup schedule is predominantly speed races (not Hirscher’s specialty) until Dec. 9.

Hirscher caught a break when the traditional season-opening race, a giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, the last Sunday of October, was canceled due to poor weather while he was still sidelined.

Hirscher is trying this season to win his first Olympic gold medal and to become the first Alpine skier to win seven World Cup overall titles.

Hirscher has won twice in Levi, where the victors traditionally receive a reindeer.

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