alpine skiing

Marcel Hirscher retires atop Alpine skiing rather than chase record

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If Marcel Hirscher read the newspapers before his Olympic debut in 2010, he may have seen a front-page headline, “Das Debakel,” after none of his older Austrian teammates finished in the top 10 of the Vancouver Winter Games super-G.

“Failure No. 1, 2, 3, 4,” captioned photos of each of the skiers.

Hirscher, then 20 and the youngest Austrian male Olympic Alpiner in 18 years, started the giant slalom days later and finished fourth. He missed a medal by eight hundredths of a second. No Austrian man made an Alpine podium at an Olympics for the first time since 1936, but Hirscher was a glimmer of a hope.

Over the next decade, Hirscher put together one of the standout resumes in the sport’s history: a record eight World Cup overall titles (consecutive), world titles in the slalom, giant slalom and super combined and, under mounting pressure in PyeongChang, his first two Olympic gold medals.

They would be his last Olympics, too. Hirscher revealed his retirement on Austrian primetime TV on Wednesday, news pegged by media for nearly a week since the press conference was announced.

“It’s not a major surprise anymore,” Hirscher said in front of eight crystal globes signifying those eight overall titles, noting he decided in late August. “The last two weeks have seen a lot of turbulence, but I feel very clearly and there were many reasons. … I’m at the pinnacle. My body is a bit tired after 12 years. It’s a very decisive argument. And the fact, of course, that I wanted to leave as a champion.”

At 30, he goes out on top of the sport. Hirscher is coming off yet another World Cup overall title, plus season titles in the slalom and giant slalom. He won nine races last season (only Mikaela Shiffrin won more) to up his career World Cup victories total to 67.

“I always wanted to quit at a moment where I knew I could still win races,” he said, noting wanting to retire while still healthy. “Even in 2013 [after winning his first world championship], I felt it’s as good a day to stop as any. It doesn’t get any better, but then I carried on.”

The World Cup wins record of 86, held by Swede Ingemar Stenmark, is well-known to U.S. ski fans. Lindsey Vonn risked her long-term health to pursue the mark before calling it quits last season with 82 wins, four years older than Hirscher.

Hirscher, a technical specialist with an injury history much shorter than the speed racer Vonn, had averaged nine wins per season over the last five years. Had he kept up something close to that pace, he would have passed Stenmark well before the 2022 Beijing Winter Games.

Instead, he made a decision rare in sport: He walked away during his peak, passing up the chance to become the greatest of all time (by that statistical measure, though some may argue the eight overall crowns make a strong argument). It’s not that surprising. For years, Hirscher hinted at early retirement.

He left his future up in the air after each World Cup season, but the assumption was always that he would continue. Who leaves the sport in their 20s without major injury or a dip in results?

But Hirscher, whose father ran a ski school and whose mother was a ski instructor, was never one for the frenzy around Austrian racers.

“The only thing I can do next season is [lose],” Hirscher, who equated his celebrity in Austria to that of Tom Brady in the U.S., said going into the 2018 Olympic season. “Because if I’m finishing second, in the Austrian press it would be a disaster. It is hard to manage with this pressure.”

He relished eating a cheeseburger unnoticed in Aspen, Colo. In offseasons, he preferred dirt-biking, motocross, whitewater kayaking and rock climbing. Now he is married with a 10-month-old son.

“I simply believe that I was extremely lucky to have the knees as a professional athlete after so many years I can go home without having any after-effects,” he said Wednesday. “It was always important to catch the moment where I thought, I want to play football with my little boy, climb the mountains or do things I couldn’t if I had any serious injury.”

Hirscher, who was the slalom favorite in Sochi but took silver, finished his Olympic career by delivering big time in PyeongChang.

He won his first event, the combined, by posting the fastest slalom run by 1.02 seconds. Five days later, he won his second race, the giant slalom, by 1.27 seconds (greater than the margin separating second from ninth). Hirscher, who had always expressed content without an Olympic gold medal, said all the pressure had gone away now that he had two.

“Win so many races, so many world championship titles, all the time, always the same question, where is the Olympic gold medal?” he said in PyeongChang. “Now it is finally here. If you have a perfect career, you need this one Olympic gold medal.”

Asked to name his successors, Hirscher noted slalom and giant slalom rivals Henrik Kristoffersen of Norway and Alexis Pinturault of France.

“Maybe it can be someone, an athlete we have never heard of before,” he said. “If I think back to the beginning of myself, nobody was expecting that I’m going to win the overall World Cup. Not so early, no so fast, not so often.”

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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MORE: Spain: Woman’s body identified as missing Olympic skier

Spain: Woman’s body identified as missing Olympic skier

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MADRID (AP) — Spanish police found the body of former Alpine ski racer and Olympic medalist Blanca Fernández Ochoa in a mountainous area near Madrid on Wednesday after days of searching for her.

Police said a tracking dog near a peak in the forested area came across a woman’s body, which friends said was believed to be 56-year-old Fernández, Spain’s first female Winter Olympic medalist.

Unidentified police sources confirmed to Spanish news agency Europa Press the body was Ochoa’s.

She earned slalom bronze at the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville and became a household name.

“I remember Blanca with fondness,” said Alberto Tomba, a three-time Italian Olympic Alpine skiing champion. “I raced for many years with her brother, Luis. It’s a terrible loss.”

In addition to the bronze medal in Albertville, Fernández had 20 World Cup podium finishes in her career.

Spanish politicians tweeted condolences. Spain’s caretaker prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, tweeted his “warmest affection” for Fernández’s family.

“Without a doubt she was one of our pioneers,” tennis player Garbiñe Muguruza said on Twitter. “An example to every woman.”

Spanish two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso called Fernández a “legend” in Spanish sports.

“A great reference,” said figure skater Javier Fernandez, whose bronze medal last year at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics was the first for a Spaniard since Fernández’s feat in 1992.

Some soccer clubs also released statements lamenting Fernández’s death, including Valencia and Real Madrid.

Police declined to confirm the body’s identification to The Associated Press, saying formal procedures had to be followed before an official announcement was made. But the search was called off after the discovery of the body.

Fernández was last spotted on surveillance video at a shopping mall on Aug. 24.

More than 200 police officers on foot and horseback, firefighters, forest rangers and hundreds of volunteers had combed the steep pine-forested area for days looking for Fernández.

Bode Miller, after tragic year, heads to Montana’s mountains

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HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Retired U.S. downhill skier Bode Miller decided a change of scenery was needed after a tumultuous year in which he experienced the tragic death of his toddler daughter, the birth of a son and now the expected arrival of twin boys this fall.

So the 41-year-old six-time Olympic medalist and his pregnant wife, Morgan, headed to the Montana mountains with four children in tow to settle into a new home at Big Sky Resort north of Yellowstone National Park. There, he plans to give his California-raised children a modernized taste of his childhood in northern New Hampshire, where he and his hippie parents lived in a home without running water or electricity.

“After losing Emmie, we definitely reflected on how we were raising our kids,” Miller told The Associated Press in a recent interview. “We felt like there was enough missing from our experience and their upbringing in Southern California that we needed to look at other options.”

Emeline Miller drowned in a backyard pool in June 2018 after she slipped out the back door of a neighbor’s house that the 19-month-old girl and her mother were visiting outside Los Angeles. Four months later, as Bode and Morgan Miller dealt with their grief, their son Easton was born and joined the family that already included another girl and two boys.

Miller said he spent time after his daughter’s death questioning what he could have done differently, and then he sharpened his focus on his other children. Drawing from his childhood in Franconia, N.H., he concluded they needed to move closer to nature and live in a small community to bond as a family and instill values like independence, self-reliance and grit.

With the twins due in November, Miller decided the time was right.

“When you get a true sense of the possible shortness of life — nobody knows what’s around the corner — it’s not something you want to put off,” Miller said. “It changed a bit our intensity of how we deal with our time and our family and our priorities.”

Morgan Miller has said the family keeps Emeline with them by sharing memories and imagining having her with them, and that she wants to make sure their children are getting the best of their parents and out of life.

“It’s a battle every day to get up out of bed,” she told TODAY in August. “But to see them and see the joy through their eyes and to live vicariously through all of their daily experiences makes each day just a little bit easier.”

The family plans to split their time throughout the year between their new home in Montana and their current home in Coto de Caza, an upscale Los Angeles suburb.

In Montana, Bode Miller will have a new role as the face of the sprawling Big Sky Resort, in the shadow of the 11,166-foot Lone Peak about 25 miles north of Yellowstone. Communities scattered across the slopes include the Yellowstone Club, an exclusive resort for the ultra-rich. The Millers will live in nearby Spanish Peaks, another upscale development.

Bode Miller will act as Big Sky’s brand ambassador, working on its ski programming, running camps and helping develop the booming ski area.

He and Morgan, a former professional volleyball player, also plan to continue their campaign to educate parents about water safety for young children.

“It was a horrible experience, losing a child,” Bode Miller said. “The loss was brutal, but we have an amazing family, and we have a unique ability to really live a spectacular life and move forward, and also to show each other and show the rest of the world what that healing process can look like.”

Bode Miller is the most decorated male skier in U.S. history with 33 World Cup wins, two overall titles, four world championships and six Olympic medals. He built a reputation as a brash risk-taker who enthralled audiences that would tune in just to see whether he’d win or crash trying.

His 19-year professional skiing career ended with a crash in the 2015 World Championships in Beaver Creek, Colorado, that severed his hamstring tendon. He formally retired in 2017.

Now, nearly four years after that race, his time on the slopes is spent mostly with his 11-year-old daughter, his 6-year-old son and his 4-year-old son, who is just learning how to ski. Bode Miller said he enjoys skiing as much as ever, but he harbors no thoughts of a comeback.

“I’m pretty glad to have it behind me, honestly,” he said. “I feel like it was a great phase, but I’m definitely past it and don’t really have any desire to do it again or look back on it.”

Bode Miller said he’ll always be involved in downhill skiing because he loves the sport and the people in it, but his long-term plans are unclear.

He’s not closing the door on broadcasting but acknowledged he’d have to do it more regularly to get better.

“It can’t be once every four years for the Olympics,” he said. “That didn’t make sense to me. I don’t think I would ever really improve doing it that way.”

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