Austria's Marcel Hirscher, center, winner of the men's slalom, celebrates with second-placed compatriot Michael Matt, left, and third-placed compatriot Marco Schwarz, at the alpine ski World Championships in Are, Sweden, Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Marco Trovati)

Hirscher wins slalom at worlds, leads Austrian clean sweep

February 17, 2019 - 9:44 am

ARE, Sweden (AP) — If this was to be Marcel Hirscher's last race at the skiing world championships, the Austrian great sure put on a show.

Hirscher produced what he described as one of the best runs of his trophy-laden 12-year career, allowing him to coast to victory in the second leg of the slalom and lead an Austrian 1-2-3 in the final race of the two-week championships.

It was a third world title in the slalom, matching the record of the great Ingemar Stenmark. It was his seventh career gold at the worlds, tying the men's record with compatriot Toni Sailer from the late 1950s.

It might be his last, too.

"It is unbelievable," Hirscher said, somewhat tantalizingly, "after 2013, 2017, now '19, maybe my last world champs, to finally get to have another gold medal."

Hirscher keeps getting asked how long he will continue his reign as the most successful male ski racer of this generation. He is on 68 World Cup wins — 18 off the record of Stenmark — and next month could win his eighth straight overall World Cup title.

Add the seven world golds — as part of a collection of nine world medals — and two Olympic gold medals, and Hirscher can retire a happy man. Whenever that may be.

Austria, a storied Alpine skiing nation, headed into the final event of the championships looking to avoid finishing without a gold medal for the first time since Crans Montana, Switzerland, in 1987.

Trust Hirscher to deliver when it mattered.

And the Austrians ended up with three medals, with Michael Matt and Marco Schwarz taking silver and bronze, respectively.

Matt, whose brother is former Olympic and world slalom champion Mario Matt, was 0.65 seconds behind and Schwarz a further 0.11 adrift.

Hirscher destroyed the field with an almost flawless first run that gave him a lead of 0.56 seconds from Alexis Pinturault of France. No other skier was within a second of the lead and Hirscher told Austria's domestic broadcaster, ORF, that it was one of his best ever runs.

That meant Hirscher could be more circumspect in the second leg — especially after a slip from Pinturault toward the end of his run that knocked the Frenchman into third place at the time and out of medal contention — and get down safely.

He did just that, posting only the 25th fastest time for the second leg.

He didn't need to go any quicker.

"I knew that Alexis was not in the lead, so the first part I tried to push it really, really hard and then there were two or three gates where it was bumpy," Hirscher said. "Hopefully stay safe there and into the finish line. Not attack."

Hirscher has been suffering with a cold this week. He was second to Henrik Kristoffersen in the giant slalom on Friday, and said after that race he was going straight back to bed to rest up ahead of the slalom.

"(I) want to thank my whole team because they made this possible," Hirscher said. "They worked really hard to bring me here to the starting gate so thanks for that."


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