KRANJSKA GORA, Slovenia (AP) — Marcel Hirscher capped his stellar season by securing an unprecedented seventh overall World Cup title on Sunday.
Dominating the penultimate slalom of the season, the two-time Olympic champion from Austria stretched his lead over his only remaining rival, Henrik Kristoffersen, to 289 points. The Norwegian, a specialist in technical races, cannot overtake Hirscher because he will only compete in two more events this season.
“This is so surreal, I can’t believe it,” said Hirscher, who also locked up the slalom and GS titles this weekend, two weeks before the season-ending races in Sweden.
“Now I am going for one week vacation to Are,” he quipped. “That is always really nice because the stress has gone away.”
Building on a big first-leg lead of 0.82-seconds over Kristoffersen, Hirscher did not hold back in his final run and extended the margin to 1.22 seconds, a country mile in the sport. Ramon Zenhaeusern of Switzerland was 1.61 behind in third, while Olympic champion Andre Myhrer, who was third after the opening run, dropped to 24th.
Shortly after finishing and with his skis still clipped on, Hirscher fell on his back and celebrated the victory.
“Incredible. You can’t believe it’s possible,” he said after becoming the first skier in the 51-year history of the World Cup to win seven overall titles. No other male skier has won more than five, and fellow Austrian Annemarie Moser-Proell won six times on the women’s circuit in the 1970s.
Sunday’s victory also gave Hirscher this year’s slalom title with a race to spare, a day after he also locked up the season-long title in the giant slalom.
“With all the problems before the season started, with the broken ankle, it is… I can’t find the right words. It is very surreal,” said Hirscher, who missed all of his pre-season preparation after fracturing his ankle while straddling a gate on his first training day on snow in August.
“The summer really wasn’t easy. It went from a possible end of career to my best season,” Hirscher said after Sunday’s win, his 12th of the World Cup season and 57th overall.
Last month in Pyeongchang, Hirscher crowned his illustrious career by adding the only prize he was missing — Olympic gold. He won the combined event and the giant slalom, but came up short as clear favorite in the slalom, where he went out in the opening run.
“I don’t know, to be honest,” Hirscher said when asked about his next goals. “I am happy to go home now and enjoy this. I have to make up my mind where my journey goes next.”
Hirscher said the ongoing rivalry with Kristoffersen, who beat the Austrian for the slalom title two years ago, has enabled him to further raise his level.
“Hats off, the future belongs to this young man,” Hirscher said about the 23-year-old Norwegian. “He has made it really tough. He performed, performed, performed, and made no mistakes so I had to bring something extra all the time.”
Kristoffersen, who performed a deep bow to Hirscher at the prize giving ceremony after Sunday’s race, called the Austrian “the best ski racer in the world.”
“So it’s OK for me to be second. At the moment he is just better, so it’s OK when he wins the slalom globe, the GS globe, the overall globe,” Kristoffersen said.
The men’s World Cup continues with a downhill and a super-G in Kvitfjell, Norway, next weekend.