Just 24-hours ago, Austria’s Marcel Hirscher was left searching. Searching for answers after a shocking sixth-place finish in Wednesday’s giant slalom in Saalbach-Hinterglemm, Austria, after setting a record margin of victory in Alta Badia just two days prior. “In two days from hero to zero,” as he put it to Austrian television.
Thursday’s slalom in Saalbach proved to be no less of a challenge with run times of upwards of a minute, deteriorating conditions, and big shakeups in the standings combining for one of the toughest days of slalom racing we’ve seen on the World Cup in quite some time. Scheduled as the makeup race for the cancelled Val d’Isere slalom earlier this month, Saalbach proved to be a formidable venue once again on the men’s tour.
Hirscher kicked out of the gate for his second run holding a massive 2.13 second advantage over eventual second-place finisher, Switzerland’s Loic Meillard, but lost almost all of that lead by the time he crossed the finish, 0.38 seconds ahead of the young Swiss. Norwegian arch-rival, Henrik Kristoffersen, rounded out the podium in third, 0.47 seconds back.
Thursday’s 63rd World Cup victory moved Hirscher one win ahead of Annemarie Moser-Proell for the winningest Austrian racer of all time and third overall behind American Lindsey Vonn (82 wins) and Swedish legend, Ingemar Stenmark (86 wins). In recent years, the focus has been on Vonn’s efforts to eclipse Stenmark’s record but at only 29 years old, Hirscher is on pace to potentially reach that mark in the near future as well.
“It sounds amazing, but it is very surreal to have a name like this,” Hirscher said of his new title. “There will be a time where I can really enjoy this, but for today and at the moment it is really amazing to have another victory maybe at one of the hardest slalom races I have ever skied in. This was really a hard bit of work and it’s amazing to be in the first position today.”
“I think we made the right choices for today’s race,” he added of his ability to rebound from Wednesday’s disappointment. “Yesterday, I always said that such big mistakes as yesterday are usually over but once more again this can happen after 10 years on the World Cup tour but today really was perfect all in all.”
Thursday was Meillard’s second career World Cup podium and second podium in as many days after the 22-year-old also finished runner-up in Wednesday’s GS. Sitting in 12th place after the first run, Meillard left nothing to chance and rolled the dice in run two and came close to pulling off the win.
“For sure it was two hard days,” he shared after the race. “It was very bumpy and we had to fight in the gates in both runs. In the end, I’m very happy with the results and I honestly don’t know what to say about these two podiums. In GS, for sure, it was not easy being in front in the first run and knowing everything was possible so it was hard to push it in the second run and today in slalom, the first run was hard to ski; it was very bumpy and not very fun but second run I could enjoy and at the end it was a big jump.”
Kristoffersen, like Hirscher, was disappointed with his GS performance and was keen to bounce back in slalom with a positive result. Always a fierce competitor, The 24-year-old Norwegian saw a missed opportunity in his first run to close the gap with Hirscher and possibly sneak away with the win himself.
“I was actually more disappointed with the first run than the second run,” explained Kristoffersen. “In the second run I was 12-hundredths ahead of Marcel and I was almost six-tenths behind in the first run. I just didn’t let it go and Marcel was really on it. Trying to make up that much time on Marcel when he’s in the shape of his life, it’s possible and I’ve skied fast before but that’s almost too much to ask for. Second run, I think I skied good the whole way but the last pitch was insane, I lost almost nine-tenths to Loic and Marcel lost almost eight-tenths.”
It was a tough day for the American slalom skiers as none of the four starters finished inside of the top 30. Mark Engel, Hig Roberts, Luke Winters, and Ted Ligety all did not finish their first runs.
The men’s tour now heads to Madonna di Campiglio, Italy, for a night slalom on Dec. 22.
1. Marcel Hirscher (AUT)- Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
2. Loic Meillard (SUI)- Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
3. Henrik Kristoffersen (NOR)- Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
4. Manuel Feller (AUT)- Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
5. Michael Matt (AUT)- Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
5. Daniel Yule (SUI)- Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
7. Clement Noel (FRA)- Dynastar/Lange/Look
8. Stefan Hadalin (SLO)- Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
9. Marco Schwarz (AUT)- Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
10. Ramon Zenhaeusern (SUI)- Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
For complete FIS results, please click here.