Marcel Hirscher

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Marcel Hirscher insists he would be OK without Olympic gold medal

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ASPEN, Colo. (AP) — Marcel Hirscher‘s not-so-distant plans include spending two weeks on an island, where he will read books, watch movies and stare into the sea as he ponders this: Does he really want to keep ski racing?

Don’t read too much into it, though. It’s an annual rite for the Austrian standout who has captured six straight overall World Cup titles. After each season, he takes his time to gauge just how much he wants to return to the World Cup circuit.

Sometimes, Hirscher rediscovers his passion by May. And sometimes, it takes until October. But his appetite always returns.

“At the moment, I’m not sure if I’m doing next year’s season,” the 28-year-old Hirscher casually said as he hung out by an outdoor pool during a warm day on the eve of World Cup Finals where he’s already clinched the overall, slalom and giant slalom titles. “I always need a little bit of time to see how is my physical status, how is the mental thing — is the fire still burning? These are a lot of questions. No worries, though, all the years prove it’s always the same.”

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All the years also prove he can’t be caught as he keeps setting the bar higher and higher. This season, he became the first man to win six overall World Cup titles. On the women’s side, only fellow Austrian Annemarie Moser-Proell has won six championships.

“I just feel like Marcel’s really the one athlete on the men’s or women’s side that’s always there, always, always shows up on game day and probably in training as well,” said American Mikaela Shiffrin, who’s closing in on her first overall title. “He doesn’t win every single race, but if he’s not winning, he’s second. He’s so consistent.”

Hirscher’s surrounded by a coach, ski servicemen and physiotherapists, whose sole task is keeping him running at top form.

It’s an enviable position.

“Marcel has changed the sport, in the way of the team concept,” said Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen, who beat Hirscher for the slalom title last season. “It’s still important to have a team, but it’s really important as well to have individual differences, the way he does it. … Everything is as close to perfect as it can get with logistics, training, everything.

“To have the opportunities Marcel has, to put in the work he does, then maybe one day we could catch him.”

Hirscher doesn’t compete against racers so much as himself and the course. He could finish in second and may not be the least bit pleased with his skiing.

“I know how fast I can go and if I’m not reaching my 100 percent maximum, then I’m not happy with myself,” Hirscher said. “It doesn’t matter if I’ve won the six globes or not. I want to be as good as it is possible for myself.”

Hirscher is so unflappable on the slopes that not even a falling drone can distract him. That’s what happened during a race in Italy in December 2015. The drone carrying a TV camera for a broadcast crew crashed to the snow just behind Hirscher on his second run. It led the International Ski Federation (FIS) to announce it was banning camera drones from its World Cup races.

“If this … drone would’ve hit me, I wouldn’t be sitting here. That’s for sure,” Hirscher said. “This was a really close call. I mean, I’m super happy because it was all luck to get out of the situation healthy.”

For as dominating as he’s been over the years, there is one thing missing from his portfolio — an Olympic gold medal.

“That is not necessary,” said Hirscher, who earned silver in the slalom at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and figures to be a big favorite at the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea. “It wouldn’t change my career.”

His offseason to-do list includes dirt-bike riding, white-water kayaking, some climbing, hanging out with friends, hosting a barbecue or two, enjoying the sun and finally, “training, training, training, training, since it’s part of my job,” he said.

First up, his retreat to an island (the location of which he wouldn’t divulge).

“Just thinking about what is going on for the future, how the last season was?” Hirscher explained. “It’s good to be two weeks on an island and most of the time really doing nothing.”

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Marcel Hirscher clinches record 6th straight World Cup overall title

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Marcel Hirscher reached an unprecedented run of dominance in Alpine skiing history on Saturday.

The Austrian clinched his record-breaking sixth straight World Cup overall title with his 44th career World Cup victory in a giant slalom in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia.

He wrapped up the title, determined by accumulating results throughout the season, with five races left on the 36-race schedule. Hirscher couldn’t quite believe it when told of the news.

“You think so?” Hirscher said, still breathing heavily from his second run in the finish area. “Mathematics wasn’t my best program on school. Can you tell me why?”

Here’s why: Hirscher leads by 504 points with five races left. Winners receive 100 points per race, so second-place Kjetil Jansrud of Norway can’t catch Hirscher, even if Jansrud wins the rest of the races and Hirscher doesn’t ski again this season.

“That is not too bad, actually,” Hirscher said after it was explained to him.

Hirscher, who turned 28 on Thursday, now owns more World Cup overall titles than any man in history, breaking his tie with Luxembourg’s Marc Girardelli.

Austrian Annemarie Moser-Proell owns the women’s record of six overall titles, but they were not all in a row.

This only increases the pressure on Hirscher to deliver in PyeongChang. Hirscher captured individual world titles in 2013, 2015 and 2017, in different events each year, but lacks an Olympic gold medal.

He was upset in the 2014 Olympic slalom by countryman Mario Matt, taking silver.

“It is not always easy,” said Hirscher, who has five wins and eight runners-up in 15 standard World Cup slaloms and giant slaloms this season. “On the top, it is sometimes more a mind game than a physical game.”

This season, Hirscher leads the World Cup giant slalom and slalom standings and swept the events at the world championships last month. Hirscher reportedly spent days sick in bed at worlds before racing.

Consider that Hirscher missed world super combined gold by .01, and that Austria could be favored to win the new Olympic team event in 2018, and he could go for four gold medals in PyeongChang.

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Five takeaways from World Alpine Skiing Championships

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Five thoughts after an unpredictable world alpine skiing championships, looking ahead to the Olympics … 

1. Expect Mikaela Shiffrin to be busier in PyeongChang

Shiffrin chose not to enter the super-G or super combined in the first week at worlds, in order to maximize her medal potential in the giant slalom and slalom in the final weekend. It paid off with silver and gold medals.

It seems unlikely that Shiffrin adopts the same, two-race slate in PyeongChang. The 2018 Olympic schedule has the giant slalom and slalom in the first week, followed by the speed events of super-G, downhill and super combined.

Consider also Shiffrin’s mindset going into St. Moritz.

“Right now, I’m going with [only giant slalom and slalom] because I just don’t think that I have quite enough experience in speed [events] to be able to count on winning a medal in those events yet,” she said. “But by the time we go to South Korea next year, maybe I could. I might be in a position where I can at least be in contention for medals in giant slalom, slalom, combined, super-G and maybe even downhill, only because nobody’s ever skied on that track before.”

The women get their first look at the 2018 Olympic venue with World Cup races in two weeks, a downhill and super-G. Shiffrin said before worlds that she planned to travel to South Korea for training but to leave before the races start. She wanted to prioritize the following week’s World Cup giant slalom and slalom in Squaw Valley, Calif.

What’s for sure is we can learn plenty about Shiffrin’s Olympic potential in speed events this weekend. She’s set to race at the World Cup stop in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, which is made up of two combineds and a super-G.

If Shiffrin enters all three events, it will bring her career World Cup start total in downhill, super-G and combined up to 10 races. Her best finish in her first seven starts was fourth in a super-G last month.

“I have a lot of goals there,” Shiffrin said of speed events after bagging her third straight slalom world title Saturday. “Hopefully, some day, I’d like to win in super-G and downhill, but I think it’ll take some time before I can do that consistently. It’s definitely a long road from here. I still feel like I just started.”

2. Lindsey Vonn must heal

Vonn made it clear at worlds that she wasn’t 100 percent recovered from breaking her right upper arm in a Nov. 10 training crash. Her right hand movement was so limited that she couldn’t put her hair in a ponytail, let alone comfortably grip a ski pole at 75 miles per hour.

After skiing out of the opening super-G, troubled by that hand, she duct-taped her glove to her ski pole, placed fifth in the super combined and third in the downhill. She said the bronze medal felt like gold given her latest injury comeback.

Vonn became the oldest woman to earn a world championships medal. In PyeongChang, she can become the oldest woman to earn an Olympic Alpine medal.

Vonn’s biggest hurdle is her own health. A smooth finish to the season, regardless of wins, and a normal offseason is key.

“I want to be in a position at the Olympics where I’m at my top form not just struggling to kind of make it back into the mix,” Vonn said, according to The Associated Press. “It’s a different ballgame when I’m prepared.”

3. U.S. lacks young stars

Worlds went about to form for the entire U.S. team. Shiffrin and Vonn were the only medalists. No man placed in the top 10 for the first time since 1997.

Injuries and, especially, aging are the concerns.

Four-time Olympic medalist Julia Mancuso, out since November 2015 hip surgery, was on the team but didn’t enter any events. The top U.S. men on the World Cup in recent seasons, Ted Ligety and Steven Nyman, went out with season-ending injuries in January. Bode Miller, who has trained but not raced this season, was in the NBC Sports commentary booth.

All of them are 32 years and older. Maybe some summon one last Olympic medal surge next year, but what about after that?

Shiffrin is the only American younger than age 28 who owns a World Cup victory. U.S. men earned Youth Olympic and junior worlds gold medals last year, but they look destined for 2022.

4. Marcel Hirscher approaches Austrian legends

Hirscher was the best skier in St. Moritz, despite reportedly spending days in bed before his first race. He earned two golds and missed a third by .01 in the super combined.

Only Tony Sailer owns more individual world titles among Austrian men. Hirscher is en route to his sixth straight World Cup overall title this season, which no man from any country has accomplished.

He’s at 43 World Cup wins, 11 shy of the Austrian men’s mark held by Hermann Maier. At 27 years old, Hirscher ought to eclipse it.

But Hirscher’s résumé has a gaping hole — no Olympic gold medal. He was upset in the Sochi Olympic slalom by countryman Mario Matt. And there’s no certainty Hirscher will be a favorite in PyeongChang.

For years, he was the world’s second-best giant slalom skier behind the now-injured Ligety, who could reclaim the throne next season, though that is a tall order.

In slalom, young Norwegian Henrik Kristoffersen has been neck and neck with Hirscher but had a poor worlds.

The super combined is the most unpredictable event, but even there Frenchman Alexis Pinturault has won six of the 11 World Cup races since 2013.

5. Surprises in St. Moritz

Most races provided surprise medalists.

In all five men’s events, either the gold or silver medalist had not won a World Cup race in at least two years (or, in three cases, never made a World Cup podium). Women’s medalists in downhill, super-G, giant slalom and the super combined had never won a World Cup race.

New names were going to emerge regardless, considering the list of recent stars not racing (retired Tina Maze, Ligety, Miller, Aksel Lund Svindal) and those who did compete but were slowed or forced out by injury (Vonn, Anna Veith, Gut).

More surprises could be in store in PyeongChang given, as Shiffrin said, it’s a new track for everybody.

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