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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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Shelby Houlihan shatters American 5000m record

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Shelby Houlihan chopped 10.52 seconds off her own American 5000m record, clocking 14:23.92 at a Bowerman Track Club intrasquad meet in Portland, Ore., on Friday night.

Houlihan, who was 11th in the Rio Olympic 5000m, has in this Olympic cycle improved to become one of the greatest female distance runners in U.S. history.

She first broke Shannon Rowbury‘s American record in the 5000m by 4.47 seconds in 2018. In 2019, she broke Rowbury’s American record in the 1500m by 1.3 seconds in finishing fourth at the world championships in 3:54.99.

On Friday, Houlihan and second-place Karissa Schweizer both went under the American record. Schweizer, 24 and three years younger than Houlihan, clocked 14:26.34, staying with Houlihan until the winner’s 61-second final lap.

“I knew Karissa was going to try to come up on me and take the lead. She does that every time,” Houlihan told USATF.tv. “I had decided I was not going to let that happen.”

Houlihan improved from 41st to 12th on the world’s all-time 5000m list, 12.77 seconds behind Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba‘s world record.

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Can T.J. Oshie, other established Olympic hockey stars hold on for 2022?

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T.J. Oshie will be 35 years old during the next Winter Olympics. Jonathan Quick will be 36. Now that the NHL is one key step closer to returning to the Winter Games, the question surfaces: which 2014 Olympians will have a difficult time returning to rosters in 2022?

Oshie was the last of the 14 forwards chosen for the U.S. Olympic team for Sochi, beating out Bobby Ryan and Brandon Saad, in part for his shootout prowess.

In group play against Russia, Oshie was memorably tapped by U.S. head coach Dan Bylsma six times in a shootout, including all five in the sudden-death rounds. Oshie beat Sergei Bobrovsky four times, including the game winner.

“After I went out for my third attempt, I figured I was going to keep going,” Oshie said, according to USA Hockey. “Each time I would look up to see what [Bylsma] had to say, and he would just give me a nod every time. I kind of started laughing toward shot five and six because it was getting kind of ridiculous.”

Oshie became known as “T.J. Sochi” on social media. President Barack Obama congratulated him on Twitter. The U.S. eventually lost to Canada in the semifinals and Finland in the bronze-medal game.

When the NHL chose not to send its players to the PyeongChang Winter Games, it may have spelled the end of Oshie’s Olympic career.

Consider that the oldest forward on the 2014 U.S. Olympic team was 29, six years younger than Oshie will be come 2022. A recent Olympic roster prediction from The Hockey Writers put Oshie in the “Just Missed Out” list.

NBC Sports NHL analyst Pierre McGuire has Oshie among the finalists for the last forward spots in his early U.S. roster prediction.

“I wouldn’t discount T.J. Oshie because shootout is still part of it,” McGuire said. “He still has his shootout moves, even though he’s not getting any younger.”

Quick, the unused third goalie in 2010, played 305 out of 365 minutes in net for the U.S. in Sochi. He was coming off a Stanley Cup in 2012 and en route to another one in 2014.

Since, he was sidelined by a knee injury that required surgery. He remains the Los Angeles Kings’ No. 1 goalie, which almost automatically puts an American in the Olympic roster discussion these days.

“Somebody like Jonathan definitely merits consideration just because of his achievement level over time, but I think he’d be the first person to tell you injuries have definitely affected him,” McGuire said of Quick, looking to become the second-oldest U.S. goalie to play in the Olympics after Tom Barrasso in 2002. “It’s not going to be easy for him.”

The U.S. could bypass Quick for three Olympic rookies in 2022. Connor Hellebuyck, John Gibson and Ben Bishop have superior save percentages and goals-against averages and more games played than Quick since the start of the 2018-19 season.

A wild card is Spencer Knight, the 19-year-old No. 1 from the world junior championships who last year became the highest-drafted goalie since 2010 (No. 13 to the Florida Panthers). Knight would break defenseman Bryan Berard‘s record as the youngest U.S. Olympic hockey player in the NHL era.

The Canadian roster has traditionally been deeper than the U.S. The talent is overwhelming at center, led by Sidney CrosbyConnor McDavidPatrice Bergeron and Nathan MacKinnon. The Canadians must get creative if the likes of veterans Jonathan Toews and John Tavares will join them in Beijing.

Toews, then 21, was the best forward at the 2010 Vancouver Games and Canada’s only one on the all-tournament team. While Toews’ last NHL All-Star selection was in 2017, his last two seasons have been his best in terms of points per game since 2011.

“The one thing that Canada is very good at, they do it extremely well, they select players that fit roles,” McGuire said, noting Mike Richards shifting to the wing during the 2010 Olympics. “When you look at the overwhelming depth that Canada has, that’s going to be the thing that’s going that’s going to be very interesting to watch to see how it plays out at center.”

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