He’s arguably the greatest ski racer ever and one of the most dominant athletes of his generation, but Austrian Marcel Hirscher has announced his retirement from the sport.
The 30-year-old brought an end to his glittering career Wednesday, despite clinching a record eighth consecutive World Cup season overall title earlier this year.
“Today is the day on which I will end my active career,” Hirscher said in a news conference broadcast live on national television in Salzburg.
The technical specialist has achieved unprecedented success in his 12 years on the World Cup circuit with six season titles in each of the slalom and giant slalom disciplines.
He won 67 World Cup races in all to sit third on the all-time list behind Lindsey Vonn (82) and Ingemar Stenmark (86). American star Mikaela Shiffrin is closing in on Hirscher’s tally, with 60 wins ahead of the new season, which starts in Solden, Austria in October.
But it’s Hirscher’s domination of the overall season standings — for points accrued in all disciplines — that marks him out; his nearest rival Annemarie Moser-Proell of Austria won six overall titles, while Marc Girardelli of Luxembourg won it fives times on the men’s circuit between 1985 and 1993.
Hirscher also won seven world titles in various disciplines and clinched two gold medals in the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea in 2018 to add to a silver from Sochi four years earlier.
“I would place him in same range as Stenmark. At least,” Peter Schrocksnadel, veteran head of the Austrian Ski Federation, told CNN Sport in Kitzbuhel in January.
Another Austrian great Franz Klammer, the 1976 Olympic downhill champion, told CNN in Kitzbuhel: “You cannot compare different times, different situations but Hirscher is definitely one of the best ever.”
At the season-ending World Cup finals in Soldeu, Andorra in March, Hirscher told CNN’s Alpine Edge he had accomplished “way, way more” than he ever dreamed possible.
But he admitted his priorities had changed after he and wife Laura had their first child — a boy — last year.
“Ski racing is not the most important thing any more,” Hirscher told CNN’s Christina Macfarlane.
‘Small dreams, live big’
It was no secret that Hirscher, a long-time megastar in Austria, had been mulling retirement for sometime. He admitted to CNN in Soldeu he was struggling with the decision because he felt “brilliant” and said he and his team were “getting better and better.”
But he says he made up his mind two weeks ago, and told the news conference: “I’m incredibly lucky to be able to sit here with two healthy knees.
“I want to play soccer with my kids, to ride motocross, and I’m glad I can do it now, and I’m fortunate to be healthy and survive my career without major injury.
“It will certainly be a big change, but some projects are waiting for me. It will not be easy but the beauty is that I can now choose the days to go skiing.”
Growing up in the small town of Annaberg in eastern Austria, Hirscher didn’t see foresee a fast track to greatness. When he joined the World Cup tour at 18, a single victory would have represented career success.
“Where I grew up nobody had done that before,” he said. “It would be something you can be proud of and maybe one medal at a world championship. Wow.
“I dreamed never too big. I hate to dream really big and at the end of your career have just reached one percent of big dreams. That’s not fun. Better to have small dreams and live it big.”