Marcel Hirscher: World Cup title over Olympic gold

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BEAVER CREEK, Colo. (AP) — Think a gold medal is the end-all and be-all for Winter Games athletes?

Well, meet Marcel Hirscher, who can reasonably stake a claim as the very best Alpine ski racer without an Olympic gold to his name.

Hirscher has accomplished just about everything else there is to accomplish in his sport.

Six crystal globes that signify World Cup overall season titles — all in a row, too, and No. 7 is in his sights at the moment. Fifty-two World Cup race wins. Four world championships.

Still, the question the 28-year-old Austrian gets asked over and over these days, with the first race of the PyeongChang Games scheduled for a month from Thursday, is this: Does Hirscher need an Olympic gold medal to validate all of his success?

It truly is the only thing missing from his impressive portfolio.

He scoffs at the implication.

“It won’t change my life,” Hirscher said in a recent interview. “Because if I had a choice between winning another globe or an Olympic gold medal, it is easy for me.”

In other words: The globe would be his choice.

And not much to debate, either, because he, like many other ski racers, considers that emblematic of consistent excellence, sustained over the course of months, through an entire season and through various types of races and mountains.

An Olympic gold, the thinking goes, represents merely success in one event, on one day, and subject to the vagaries of such things as the weather and a particular course setting.

Indeed, Hirscher defined it as “an American mindset” that demands that he needs an Olympic gold to cement his status.

“For me, personally,” he said, “and for the European mindset, no.”

He is certain that his place in the pantheon of skiing greats is already secured, no matter what happens next month in South Korea.

Ask him who his biggest rival is these days, and Hirscher offers a quick answer.

“Myself,” he said.

In the past, Hirscher has come quite close to climbing atop the top step of an Olympic podium.

He earned a silver in the slalom four years ago at the Sochi Games, finishing as the runner-up to countryman Mario Matt.

That is Hirscher’s lone medal, though: He was fourth in the giant slalom in 2014.

At the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Hirscher was fourth in the GS and fifth in the slalom.

He didn’t get in his usual block of training to start the season after breaking his left ankle in August when he straddled a slalom gate during practice.

He’s quickly rounded back into form, with seven victories and another trio of top-five finishes. He leads the overall World Cup standings by more than 150 points over Henrik Kristoffersen of Norway.

“I’m just skiing, skiing, skiing, skiing, since I’m able to ski again,” Hirscher said. “More skiing than usual.”

His biggest rivals aren’t all that surprised by his quick return to the top of the sport, even if he did miss a big chunk of training time.

“He always downplays things and wins,” U.S. Olympic champion Ted Ligety said. “You have to take what he says with a grain of salt.”

Hirscher’s the racer whom everyone else studies. He watches his own runs over and over again, looking for ways he can improve. And he studies other racers, too.

“Every good athlete is helping me to improve my skiing,” Hirscher said. “I can find, in every athlete, one good turn or two good turns. I can analyze why those turns were faster than other turns. And sometimes you can find out why athletes are better than other ones.”

On the course, Hirscher is so composed that nothing seems to distract him — not even a falling drone.

During a race in Italy in December 2015, a drone carrying a TV camera crashed to the snow just behind Hirscher as he sped down the mountain.

“He’s mentally strong,” Kristoffersen said.

There was a time when being mentioned in the same sentence as Austrian greats such as Franz Klammer (1976 Olympic downhill gold) or Hermann Maier (1998 super-G and giant slalom golds) used to make Hirscher a bit uncomfortable.

But it’s become part of the territory for someone who wins so often.

A few years ago, Hirscher and Maier filmed a commercial in which they raced around a track in motorized living room chairs.

The race ended in a draw.

Whatever comparisons are made nowadays — and might be made after the PyeongChang Olympics — Hirscher is OK with them. And feels fine about his standing.

“It took years to accept that this is happening,” Hirscher said. “Now I say, ‘OK, it is part of my life,’ and so I’m fine with it.”

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MORE: Mikaela Shiffrin’s dominance rarely seen in sports, let alone skiing

Germany denied gold-medal sweep of world luge championships races

Jonas Muller
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Austrian Jonas Müller denied Germany’s bid to sweep all nine races at the world luge championships.

Müller, a 25-year-old who was not on Austria’s Olympic team, won the men’s event by .104 of a second over German Max Langenhan at worlds in Oberhof, Germany, combining times from two runs. Another Austrian, 2018 Olympic champion David Gleirscher, earned bronze.

Three-time Olympian Tucker West was the top American in 13th. Chris Mazdzer, the 2018 Olympic silver medalist, skipped worlds as he raced a limited schedule this season.

Germany won the first seven of eight singles and doubles races on Friday and Saturday, including sprint events that aren’t on the Olympic program. After its defeat in the men’s event, it won the team relay to close the championships later Sunday with golds in eight of the nine events.

Its last gold-medal sweep at worlds was in 2013, when there were four events on the program. Germany also swept the Olympic golds in 2014 and 2022.

Müller, the 2020 World silver medalist who dropped out of Austria’s top three men last season, said his sled broke in a crash at a World Cup two weeks ago in Sigulda, Latvia.

“I flew home the next day and unpacked the old sled again,” he said, according to the International Luge Federation. “As you can see, the old sled doesn’t seem so bad.”

While Germany has dominated women’s and doubles events, this marked the third consecutive worlds with a non-German men’s winner, its longest drought since the mid-1990s.

Johannes Ludwig retired after winning last year’s Olympics. Felix Loch, a two-time Olympic champion and record six-time world champion, placed fourth on Sunday.

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Mikaela Shiffrin barely denied in first bid to tie Alpine skiing World Cup wins record

Mikaela Shiffrin
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Mikaela Shiffrin was denied in her first bid to tie the Alpine skiing World Cup wins record by six hundredths of a second.

Shiffrin, trying to tie Ingemar Stenmark‘s 86 World Cup victories, led by 67 hundredths over German Lena Duerr after the first of two slalom runs in Spindleruv Mlyn, Czech Republic, on Sunday.

The last racer to go in the second run, Shiffrin’s lead over Duerr dwindled as she neared the finish line. It was down to 15 hundredths at the last intermediate split with 10 seconds left of the course.

Shiffrin crossed the finish line, saw that she ended up six hundredths behind, opened her mouth, rocked her head and put her hand to her helmet. It was the closest slalom defeat of her career, which has included a record 52 World Cup slalom victories.

“I felt like the first run I skied really well, and I actually skied quite well in the second as well,” Shiffrin told Austrian broadcaster ORF. “Six tenths is not actually so much time. … Lena has been strong all season, and she deserves to win.”

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Duerr, 31, earned her second World Cup win, 10 years to the day after her first. Shiffrin won 82 World Cup races in that span.

“It took me a while,” Duerr said. “Crazy that today’s the day.”

Shiffrin’s next bid to tie Stenmark, the Swedish legend of the 1970s and ’80s, won’t be until March.

Next up are the world championships in France, starting Feb. 6, which are separate from the World Cup.

Shiffrin’s next planned World Cup races are either speed races in Kvitfjell, Norway, the first weekend of March or a giant slalom and slalom in Stenmark’s home nation at Åre, Sweden, from March 10-11 ahead of her 28th birthday on March 13.

“I don’t have any expectations going into it,” said Shiffrin, whose first World Cup win came in Åre in 2012. “It’s just like every race of the season, just trying to take it all in and enjoy my skiing, enjoy when the other athletes are skiing better, too, because there’s always some to learn from that.”

Shiffrin began last week tied with Lindsey Vonn for second place on the career wins list at 82. She then rattled off victories on Wednesday and Thursday in giant slaloms in Kronplatz, Italy, and Saturday in the first slalom in Spindleruv Mlyn, site of her World Cup debut in 2011 at age 15.

She has 11 wins in 23 starts this season, her best campaign since her record 17-win 2018-19 season.

She did break one record on Sunday — clinching her seventh World Cup slalom season title with two races left in the discipline.

She broke her tie with Vreni Schneider, a Swiss star of the 1980s and ’90s, for most women’s World Cup slalom season titles. Stenmark won eight and is tied with Vonn (downhill) for the most season titles in any discipline.

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