ARE, Sweden — A proud and storied Alpine skiing nation, Austria headed into the final event of the world championships in danger of finishing without a gold medal for the first time in a generation.
Trust Marcel Hirscher to deliver when it matters the most.
In perhaps his last race at the worlds, Hirscher produced one of the best runs of his decorated career to set up a big lead in the slalom, then coasted to victory and a record-tying seventh career gold medal at the event.
“Ten more (World Cup) races are waiting for me,” he said, when asked if this could be his last season in Alpine skiing. “We will see. Take a break and things will be way clearer than right now.”
Hirscher, who turns 30 next month, referred to the pressure and expectations he was under at these worlds. “The biggest emotion,” said the seven-time overall World Cup champion, “is that the pressure has gone away from my shoulders. I’m feeling more light than before these world championships.”
Hirscher, who was dealing with a debilitating sickness much of the week, destroyed the field with an almost flawless leg that gave him a lead of 0.56 of a second from Alexis Pinturault of France. No other skier was within a second of the lead.
It meant Hirscher could be more circumspect in the second run, especially after a slip from Pinturault toward the end of his run that knocked the Frenchman into third at the time.
Hirscher needed to get down safely and he did just that, posting only the 25th-fastest time for the second leg.
“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.”
With his third world slalom title secure, matching the haul of the great Ingemar Stenmark, Hirscher saluted the fans in the grandstand and skied into the arms of two other Austrians who completed the podium in a sweep that rescued the country’s world championships.
Michael Matt, whose brother is former Olympic and world slalom champion Mario Matt, was 0.65 of a second behind Hirscher, and Marco Schwarz was a further 0.11 adrift.
Steve Douglas is an Associated Press writer.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/Marcel-Hirscher-skis-to-Austria-s-rescue-with-13624280.php.