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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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Chinese figure skating judges banned for biased Olympic scoring

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Two Chinese figure skating judges were suspended by the International Skating Union for biased judging at the PyeongChang Olympics.

Chen Weiguang and Huang Feng had “preferential marking” for top Chinese skaters Jin Boyang (fourth place in PyeongChang) and the silver medalist pairs’ team of Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, respectively, according to the ISU.

Chen was banned two years and excluded from the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. Huang got a one-year ban.

Chen awarded her highest grades of execution scores of the men’s competition to Jin, as well as her second-highest program components scores, trailing only gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu. Both sets of scores, in both the short and long programs, were out of line with the other eight judges.

“There is evidence of preference for the Chinese skater and prejudice against his strongest competitors,” an ISU report read. “Her marks were completely unrealistic.”

The pairs’ judge Huang “obviously favored his pair also vis-à-vis the other top candidates for the Olympic gold medal,” the ISU said in a report, referencing inflated scores for Sui and Han and lower scores for gold and bronze medalists Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot of Germany and Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada.

Huang was warned one month before the Olympics by the ISU for biased judging at the December 2017 Grand Prix Final pairs’ event.

Both suspensions are subject to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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Javier Fernandez to skip Grand Prix, still compete next season

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Javier Fernandez, who in PyeongChang became the first Spanish Olympic figure skating medalist, will skip the fall Grand Prix series but return for January’s European Championships, which could be his final competition.

Europeans will be Fernandez’s focus for the season, his agent said Tuesday.

Fernandez, 26, added an Olympic bronze medal to his 2015 and 2016 World titles. He has said that his third Olympics in PyeongChang would be his last. But Fernandez did not say he would retire after the Winter Games, though he did skip the world championships in March.

Fernandez now plans to compete in his 13th straight European Championships in Minsk in January. He won the last six titles. It’s unknown if he will continue on to the world championships in Saitama, Japan, in March.

In Fernandez’s absence, the top male singles skaters in the fall Grand Prix season should be double Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, PyeongChang silver medalist Shoma Uno and American Nathan Chen, who was fifth at the Olympics after a disastrous short program but ran away with March’s world title by the largest margin in history.

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