May 24, 2024
Alpine ski great Marcel Hirscher coming out of retirement to represent the Netherlands | CBC Sports

Alpine ski great Marcel Hirscher coming out of retirement to represent the Netherlands | CBC Sports

Marcel Hirscher, one of the most successful ski racers of all time, is planning to return next season after five years in retirement. And the record eight-time overall World Cup champion is going to compete for the Netherlands — his mother’s country — instead of his native Austria.

The Austrian winter sports federation, known as the OSV, announced Wednesday that it had released the 35-year-old Hirscher and endorsed his nation change.

Hirscher then said in a statement from the Dutch Skiing Association that he’s returning “simply because I enjoy it.

“I have an excellent relationship with the OSV and am grateful to them for everything we have achieved,” he added. “This new project is best realized as a Dutch person.”

While there have been Dutch skiers who have competed on the elite level, never has the Netherlands — a country with no mountains — had a top racer anywhere near Hirscher’s caliber.

The nation change allows Hirscher to compete on Van Deer skis — the brand he helped create with Red Bull, his sponsor. Van Deer is not on the list of brands approved for use by the Austrian federation.

“We have of course tried very hard to offer Marcel the best possible and individual conditions in the event of a return to Alpine racing and were able to explain these to him in a personal exchange,” the OSV said. “Of course, we very much regret his decision to request a change of nation to the Dutch Ski Association but in the end we supported it.”

Main aim to compete at worlds in Austria

Hirscher was born and raised in Austria to an Austrian father and a Dutch mother, Sylvia. His father, Ferdinand, coached him throughout his career.

Patrick Riml, Red Bull’s ski racing director, said that Hirscher plans to enter lower-level races in New Zealand in August to get the necessary points to return to the World Cup circuit and that his main aim is to compete at next season’s world championships in Saalbach-Hinterglemm, Austria.

“He’s been training the whole season. He’s been on snow pretty much every day of the winter testing his equipment,” Riml said, adding that Hirscher plans to compete in both slalom and giant slalom.

Hirscher retired in 2019 following his record eighth straight overall World Cup title. Marc Girardelli is next on the men’s list with five overall titles. Annemarie Moser-Pröll tops the women’s list with six overall trophies, followed by Mikaela Shiffrin with five and Lindsey Vonn with four.

WATCH | Hirscher wins slalom gold at 2019 worlds:

Marcel Hirscher claims slalom gold at world championships

Austria’s Marchel Hirscher finishes 1st, 2 other countrymen join him on the podium.

In terms of World Cup race wins, Hirscher’s 67 victories are second behind men’s record holder Ingemar Stenmark’s 86. Shiffrin holds the overall record with 97 wins.

So can Hirscher still compete at the highest level?

“He was amazing when he was racing, he was the best one out there,” Riml told The Associated Press. “Marcel is Marcel.”

Joins Braathen in switching allegiances

French skier Victor Muffat-Jeandet, who is also 35 and still competes, told L’Equipe: “It won’t be easy to win. The sport has evolved in five years.”

Hirscher’s return follows that of another Red Bull athlete, Lucas Braathen, who is switching from Norway to Brazil — his mother’s home nation.

“I’ve spent hours studying your performance throughout my career, attempting to integrate bits and pieces into my own movement patterns,” Braathen wrote Hirscher on Instagram. “There is one thing I really wish I had the chance to do — race against you. It’s an honour to have you back, and I can’t wait to ski with you.”

Skiers must comply with International Ski and Snowboard Federation (FIS) rules to change national eligibility — though the process is made easier if the team they are leaving agrees to the move.

“Taking the sport to a whole new level of off-season entertainment,” Aksel Lund Svindal, another former overall World Cup winner, wrote on Instagram. “It seems like we have a transfer market in ski racing.”

Olympic possibility

Riml said there was no shared planning or communication between Hirscher and Braathen, and noted that Hirscher has not formally joined the Dutch association yet.

“The last couple of years, he was always thinking about it,” Riml said. “Then he decided on very, very short notice that he really wants to do this. Then we got to work trying to get all the documentations in place and everything will be submitted today to the FIS council for approval, which is just a formality.”

Might Hirscher extend his comeback to the Milan-Cortina Olympics in 2026? He won two golds at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games and a bronze at the 2014 Sochi Games.

“It’s hard to predict anything right now,” Riml said. “It’s a step by step process. Right now the goal is this season. But then then you never know, right?”

Riml stepped down as the U.S. Ski Team’s Alpine director a few months ago but remains a consultant for the Americans.

“This was not in the plan when it came up,” Riml said of having Hirscher back along with Braathen. “But it’s very exciting for the sport in general.”

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