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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.”

MORE: World Cup Finals TV schedule

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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WATCH LIVE: Nathan Chen in U.S. Figure Skating Championships free skate

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Nathan Chen tries to become the first man to win four straight U.S. figure skating titles since 1988, live on NBC Sports on Sunday.

NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage of the men’s free skate for subscribers starting at 2:30 p.m. ET in Greensboro, N.C. NBC joins with TV coverage at 3.

LIVE STREAM: Men’s Free Skate — Gold | NBC | Skate Order

Chen, a 20-year-old Yale sophomore, is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics. He can become the seventh man since World War II to win four straight national titles.

Five of the previous six went on to earn Olympic gold, including Dick ButtonScott Hamilton and, most recently, Brian Boitano in 1988.

Chen carries a substantial 13.14-point lead from Saturday’s short program, where he landed two quadruple jumps on one week of full training following a flu bout.

The anticipated drama Sunday comes in the battle for silver and bronze medals and the last two world championships team spots.

Jason BrownAndrew TorgashevVincent Zhou and Tomoki Hiwatashi are separated by 8.78 points. Brown, the 2015 U.S. champion, and Zhou, the 2019 World bronze medalist, are the only men in the field other than Chen with world team experience.

Key Skate Times
5:01 p.m. (ET) — Vincent Zhou
5:18 — Tomoki Hiwatashi
5:26 — Andrew Torgashev
5:35 — Nathan Chen
5:43 — Jason Brown

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NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

Mikaela Shiffrin, with 66th World Cup win, moves one shy of career dream

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Mikaela Shiffrin has said one of her career dreams is to win in every discipline in one season. She is now one victory shy of realizing it.

Shiffrin earned her 66th World Cup victory — and her second in three days — at a super-G in Bansko, Bulgaria, on Sunday.

She prevailed by .29 of a second over Italian Marta Bassino and .70 over Swiss Lara Gut-Behrami. Gut-Behrami, the last skier other than Shiffrin to win a World Cup overall title back in 2016, earned her first podium in exactly one year.

Full results are here.

“Perfect weekend for me,” said Shiffrin, who moved one shy of recently retired Austrian Marcel Hirscher for third place on the World Cup career wins list. “The whole team is excited about the whole weekend, but especially today.”

She is en route to a fourth straight World Cup overall title. And she is a combined victory away from wins in all five disciplines in one season. Only Marc GirardelliPetra KronbergerJanica Kostelic and Tina Maze have done it.

“The thing that I’m most proud of right now is that I know how to win in slalom, [giant slalom], super-G and downhill, which I never expected that would really happen,” she said.

Shiffrin struggled with confidence during a winless stretch in early January, trying not to compare herself to last season, when she won a record 17 times. She still leads the men’s and women’s tours with six victories this season, a little more than halfway through.

“Every race is such a big fight, and I haven’t been the one on top of this fight every time,” she said. “Certainly I’ve been like sometimes the expectations that I have or that other people might have, I’m not quite living up to that. Sometimes it’s hard not to feel like I’m failing sometimes, even though this is still just an incredible season.”

There are two combined races left this season for Shiffrin to achieve the dream — Feb. 23 in Switzerland and March 1 in Italy. While combined — mixing a speed run and a technical run — might seem perfect for Shiffrin, she has one victory in four starts in the discipline between the World Cup and Olympics.

And Shiffrin is careful about her race schedule. She is undecided on entering a downhill and super-G next weekend at the 2014 Olympic venue in Russia.

“After this weekend my brain is a little bit dead,” she joked.

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