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Matthias Mayer ends Kitzbuehel downhill drought for Austria

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KITZBUEHEL, Austria (AP) — For the second time in two days at the 80th Hahnenkamm races, Matthias Mayer spread his arms and bent over backward in celebration.

While his leading time in Friday’s World Cup super-G didn’t hold up, his gutsy run on the Streif course on Saturday earned him the victory in the classic downhill, becoming the first Austrian winner of the event in six years.

In cloudy conditions but on a perfect track, Mayer finished 0.22 ahead of Austrian teammate Vincent Kriechmayr and Switzerland’s Beat Feuz, who tied for second.

“There is nothing better than crossing the finish in front of those thousands of people. It’s really incredible,” said Mayer, who won the super-G here three years ago.

“In Kitzbuehel there is always tension but I was just looking forward to this race, I wanted to enjoy it,” he added.

It was the eighth career World Cup win for the two-time Olympic champion and third of the season, after triumphing in a super-G in Lake Louise, Alberta, in December and an Alpine combined in Wengen, Switzerland, last week.

No Austrian had won the prestigious race, which is usually attended by tens of thousands of spectators, since Hannes Reichelt in 2014.

“It’s very important, simply cool,” Mayer said about winning one of the marquee events of the season.

World Cup downhill champion Feuz was denied victory in the circuit’s most challenging race once again, as he finished runner-up for the fourth time in the last five years.

“Again I was not fast enough,” Feuz said. “But second place on the most difficult course in Kitzbuehel, you have to be satisfied. In Wengen luck has been on my side three times, here in Kitzbuehel it has not been on my side.”

Feuz, however, extended his lead in the discipline standings, having finished in the top three each race this season.

Feuz is currently 96 points clear of Dominik Paris, who won the downhill here last season, while Mayer climbed to third, trailing Feuz by 180 points.

Paris has been ruled out for the remainder of the season after the Italian tore the ACL and fractured the fibula head in his right knee in a crash during super-G practice this week.

“It’s a shame what happened to Dominik. That was a super battle,” Feuz said. “The gap is a bit bigger now. But Mayer has also been top five all the time so I cannot allow myself to make mistakes.”

Feuz led the race until Kriechmayr clocked the same time. It was already the sixth race this season with a tie for a podium place, which also happened in Friday’s super-G.

Kriechmayr crashed in Thursday’s downhill training and placed a disappointing sixth in the super-G the next day.

“It was a good run, I wanted to show that I could do better than yesterday,” he said after the Austrian 1-2 finish. “Our fans have deserved this. We have don’t well in recent years.”

France duo Johan Clarey and Maxence Muzaton placed fourth and fifth, respectively, while Kjetil Jansrud, who won the super-G Friday, finished sixth.

American downhiller Steven Nyman was among the fastest starters and still was ahead of Mayer’s time at the fourth split time but he couldn’t match the Austrian’s pace in the demanding bottom section of the course.

Nyman came 1.05 off the lead in 13th, five places behind the best American finisher, Bryce Bennett.

Peter Fill, who won the race in 2016 for one of his three career victories, failed to finish before announcing his retirement at the end of the season after 17 years on the circuit.

The 37-year-old Italian won the World Cup downhill title in back-to-back seasons in 2016 and 2017, and the Alpine combined rankings the following year. Fill also won super-G silver at the 2009 world championships.

The Hahnenkamm races traditionally end with a slalom on Sunday.

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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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Marcel Hirscher to address Alpine skiing future on primetime TV

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VIENNA (AP) — For once, ski racing fans in Austria have to switch on their TVs in prime time to see Marcel Hirscher live.

On Wednesday, however, they won’t see their hero trying to win yet another race. In fact, they probably never will again.

Hirscher, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and record eight-time overall World Cup champion, is set to reveal his future career plans at a media conference broadcast on national TV.

An invitation sent to media on Friday is labeled “Review, insight, preview. Marcel Hirscher update” and names the location of Wednesday’s event in Salzburg, but doesn’t elaborate.

While Hirscher, as usual, has refrained from public appearances and stayed quiet on his social media channels during the summer, several factors are hinting at retirement.

After wrapping up his unprecedented eighth overall championship in March, the same month he turned 30, Hirscher said he was in doubt about his future in the sport, unsure whether he was still hungry enough to chase for more titles.

The Austrian was expected to present his decision at his annual media day in early August, but he canceled the event just days before.

“The decision on my future is not an easy one for me,” he said at that time. “Should I ski through another World Cup season or not? I still haven’t made my final decision.”

Speculation about Hirscher’s future got new impetus from an Instagram post by Ted Ligety last Saturday.

The American, a long-term rival of Hirscher’s in the giant slalom, wrote he was working on his skiing technique, adding: “I’d tell you how but then @marcel__hirscher would want to come out of retirement,” although Ligety added the hashtags ”#itsaspeculativejoke #donttakeitliterally.”

Hirscher’s doubts about his future are not new.

In the off-season last year, after finally winning Olympic gold in PyeongChang, the only major prize missing from his victory list, he openly considered quitting the sport.

He married long-term girlfriend Laura Moisl and the pair had their first child, but Hirscher returned to the slopes in October for another World Cup season.

He ended up winning nine World Cup races to raise his career total to 67, trailing only Ingemar Stenmark (86) and Lindsey Vonn (82) on the all-time list.

Hirscher also won gold and silver at the world championship in Sweden in February for his 13th and 14th medal from a major championship, including nine golds.

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