SOELDEN, Austria — If Saturday night was any indication, Monday morning will come too soon for Oetztal Valley partygoers who will no doubt litter village sidewalks with broken glass and cigarette butts after Marcel Hirscher set the tone for the 2014-15 season by claiming a decisive victory in the opening World Cup giant slalom on the national day in Austria. Hirscher had twice finished third on the Rettenbach Glacier, but had yet to take the top step of the podium in the October opener which serves as a harbinger for the giant slalom and overall titles.
“I’ve been fighting so much for this victory, and finally I got it. I’m super happy, and I wish (everyone) a great party today,” an evidently emotional Hirscher said immediately following the race. “It is not only important for me; I think it is important for the whole nation.”
In fact, an Austrian had not won the men’s race since Hermann Maier did so in 2005, one year before Hirscher made his Soelden debut.
“It’s always great. If you race good and you are risking, then you win everything. It’s the most inspiring feeling.
Hirscher held a .19-second lead after the first run over Ted Ligety, who had won the Soelden opener for the past three years in a row and had a clear goal of making it four. But an error in the second run at the bottom of the pitch just before the flats cost him over a second in time and he ultimately finished 10th.
“I was informed over the radio about Ligety’s mistake but it didn’t change anything in the way I was planning to ski in the second run,” said Hirscher. “I was always going to give it all out.”
Last season’s overall winner spent the summer tackling unconventional CrossFit workouts, and he rolled into Soelden with a visibly different body composition from the previous year. Although shorter than most of his competitors at 5 foot 8 inches, the 2014-15 Hirscher is a force to be reckoned with.
“CrossFit showed me a total new way of training for range of motion in all those workouts. I’m fighting against tired legs, which is so normal when you do CrossFit, so it changed my whole way of standing on my feet. It was a good decision,” he reasoned.
The day provided highlights for many nations, and this year’s runner-up, Fritz Dopfer, was also the first German male to podium here.
“I actually didn’t really know about that, but this is for sure an exciting news,” the 27-year-old Garmisch native said. “The first race of the season is always a good way to assess how good the summer training went and the result of today is definitely a good sign even if this was just one race. There are a lot more to come, and I am looking forward to it.”
Disappointment was rampant in the American contingent who just one day earlier celebrated the first giant slalom victory of Mikaela Shiffrin on the same hill that tripped up Ligety from continuing his streak.
“I just made a huge mistake in the one place that you can’t make mistakes,” he said. “Everybody had tough training the last week. That’s an issue that everybody has had lately with snow conditions over here. I’m happy with where my skiing is, and I’m not like panicking or anything. It would have been really easy to get second place today, but I don’t think I could have won.”
Despite finishing the first run in fifth place, more than three-tenths of a second out of podium contention at the time, Frenchman Alexis Pinturault stomped his second run to advance to third on the day, passing Benni Raich by the slimmest of margins, .01 seconds, in the process. The conditions were not ideal, but he made the best of them. His name was a familiar one mentioned frequently in the many press conferences leading up Sunday’s race, as he is considered among the favorites to rival for this year’s overall title.
“The aim was of course to attack in the second run, but it was complicated due to the bumpy and icy conditions,” Pinturault said. “These conditions were quite different to what we got in training last week and that made it even more difficult, especially more for me than Marcel. It was a big fight today and I will try to be better next time.”
Canadian Phil Brown capitalized on starting first in the second run to advance several positions forward to finish 21st. The 22-year-old from Craigleith Ski Club is part of a young Canadian technical team that is taking steady steps to advance on the biggest stage of the sport.
“I knew it was going to be rough just based on what I saw on TV and watching the girls yesterday, it chunked out. I just wanted to keep it in the fall line and keep moving and try to do as much as I can down the pitch to carry speed onto the flat,” Brown said after first run. “We’re all trying to learn as we go. We’re all pretty new, but most of us have some decent World Cup experience. So I think we have a really good atmosphere within the team. The coaches know where we’re at and they’re going to keep pushing us because we know that we can be in the top 15.”
Tim Jitloff was the only other North American in the points, finishing 26th on the day.
“Today is one of those days,” he reflected. “I know this hill. Last year I started in the middle, I’ve started early. It’s tough. It doesn’t matter what your start is. Unless you’re in the first five guys, it’s not a smooth ride usually.”
Hirscher is now looking forward to checking in with his reindeer ‘Ferdinand’ on the next stop of the World Cup tour in Levi, Finland. He hopes to bring him food and see how much he’s grown over the year. Perhaps the reindeer will take note of Hirscher’s growth as well.
By Hank McKee
- Marcel Hirscher, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Fritz Dopfer, Nordica/Nordica/Nordica
- Alexis Pinturault, Head/Head/Head
- Benjamin Raich, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Victor Muffat-Jeandet, Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
- Davide Simoncelli, Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
- Marcus Sandell, Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
- Thomas Fanara, Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
- Roberto Nani, Voelkl/Fischer/Marker
- Ted Ligety, Head/Head/Head
Men’s World Cup giant slalom, Soelden, Austria, Oct. 26, 2014:
- It is the second race of the 2014-15 World Cup season, the first of 35 races on the men’s schedule… the first of eight slated giant slaloms. It is the 32nd World Cup race hosted by Soelden, all of them GSs and all held in October. … Soelden has been hosting the World Cup openers since 1993. … Prior to the race Ted Ligety had won the last three men’s races at the site. The last time a man from the host country won at Soelden was Hermann Maier in 2005.
- It is the 24th career World Cup win for Marcel Hirscher… his tenth in GS. … It is his first win at Soelden, though he was third the last two seasons at the site.
- It is the fourth career World Cup podium for Fritz Dopfer… his previous best at Soelden had been 13th, Oct. 23, 2011. … He is the first German male to podium at Soelden.
- It is the 23rd career World Cup podium for Alexis Pinturault… the tenth in GS. … He was second at Soelden last season.
- It is the 122nd World Cup top 10 for Ted Ligety. … it is the third World Cup scoring result for Phil Brown. … It is the 29th World Cup scoring result for Tim Jitloff… his fourth at Soelden.
|17||12||421669||HAUGEN Leif Kristian||1987||NOR||1:16.66||1:15.20||2:31.86||+3.77||24.95|
|Did not qualify for 2nd run|
|28||192504||MERMILLOD BLONDIN Thomas||1984||FRA|
|Did not finish 2nd run|
|13||990116||DE ALIPRANDINI Luca||1990||ITA|
|Did not finish 1st run|