Hirscher leads Matt for Aus­trian 1-2 fin­ish at World Cup slalom

Malta Independent - - SPORTS -

It took Aus­tria's Mar­cel Hirscher just two races to get back to where he fin­ished each of the past five sea­sons — on top of the men's World Cup over­all stand­ings.

Hirscher over­came an ill­ness on the eve of the slalom opener yes­ter­day to lead team­mate Michael Matt for an Aus­trian 1-2 fin­ish.

The five-time over­all cham­pion fin­ished a huge 1.30 sec­onds ahead of Matt to clinch his 40th ca­reer win. It was the first Aus­trian 1-2 fin­ish in a World Cup slalom since Hirscher beat Michael Matt's older brother, Mario, at the same venue three years ago.

Man­fred Moelgg of Italy was 1.31 sec­onds back in third for his first podium fin­ish in nearly three years, while Ger­many's Felix Neureuther came an­other 0.10 fur­ther be­hind in fourth.

"Phys­i­cally it went very well. I have no pains. Yes­ter­day it was re­ally bad but this morn­ing I knew it would work out," said Hirscher, who suf­fered from an in­flam­ma­tion of the mid­dle ear.

He skipped Satur­day's train­ing and de­cided only in the morn­ing hours be­fore the race to start. He headed back to his ho­tel for treat­ment im­me­di­ately af­ter com­plet­ing his first run.

Hirscher over­took Alexis Pin­tu­rault on top of the over­all stand­ings. The French­man, who beat the Aus­trian to win the sea­son-open­ing GS last month, fin­ished 1.87 be­hind in 11th. Hirscher has 180 points, 56 clear of Pin­tu­rault.

Hirscher's vic­tory also put the Aus­trian level with Pirmin Zur­briggen on the all-time win­ners list. Only four skiers have won more races in the 50-year his­tory of the World Cup — Inge­mar Sten­mark (86), Her­mann Maier (54), Al­berto Tomba (50), and Marc Gi­rardelli (46).

"I felt no pres­sure at all," Hirscher told The As­so­ci­ated Press. "For me per­son­ally, I have won al­ready a lot of races and I am done with 'I have to win races.'"

Matt, who im­proved from sixth to sec­ond for his first ca­reer podium re­sult, said he "was more ner­vous for my first run than for my sec­ond as I knew by then that ev­ery­thing was OK." He de­scribed be­ing on the podium as an "amaz­ing" feel­ing.

"I made a big step in the sum­mer phys­i­cally and men­tally and the goals were top-10 re­sults and now with the first race podium, it's amaz­ing," he said.

Marco Sch­warz, who trailed Hirscher by just 0.21 af­ter the first run, slid off the course and didn't fin­ish his fi­nal run, but an­other Aus­trian, Manuel Feller, took fifth.

Aus­tria's slalom team lost sev­eral big names as Ben­jamin Raich, Mario Matt and Re­in­fried Herbst all re­tired in the past two sea­sons. But Hirscher said the many young and up­com­ing tal­ents on the team help him to fur­ther im­prove.

"It's per­fect in train­ing," said Hirscher, who has won 19 slaloms in his ca­reer. "It wasn't easy for me in the be­gin­ning but the young guys re­ally give me mo­ti­va­tion. That's truly su­per."

Hirscher didn't want to give his huge win­ning mar­gin too much mean­ing as his main ri­val from last sea­son, Hen­rik Kristof­fersen, skipped the race.

"One guy was miss­ing, the fastest from last year. But it was a great race," Hirscher said.

Kristof­fersen, who won six slaloms last year to claim the dis­ci­pline ti­tle, sat out the race amid a dis­pute with the Nor­we­gian ski fed­er­a­tion over spon­sor­ship rights. The fed­er­a­tion's rules won't al­low Kristof­fersen to sign a per­sonal spon­sor for his hel­met.

Hirscher said "it's pretty bad that ... the fastest slalom skier of the last sea­son isn't com­pet­ing" now and added that he hopes they can find a so­lu­tion.

"Hope­fully he's back in the next races be­cause I have to see how close I can get to his pace," he said.

Moelgg, who tore his Achilles ten­don in 2014 and hadn't been on the podium for two years, was pushed into third place by Matt who beat him by 1/100th of a sec­ond.

He was vis­i­bly up­set but later con­ceded he'd made "a lit­tle bit of a mis­take in the last part" and was happy to be back on the podium.

"One-hun­dredth (of a sec­ond) is OK, now it's OK. Af­ter the in­jury two years ago ... last year was not so easy," he said, adding that his goal was to be among the top five or top seven. "That's my mo­ti­va­tion, and I think I can do it."

Bri­tain's Dave Ry­d­ing, who was fourth af­ter the open­ing run, dropped to sixth for his ca­reer-best re­sult. And the win­ner of the fi­nal slalom of last sea­son, An­dre Myhrer of Swe­den, failed to qual­ify for the sec­ond leg af­ter he skied out of the course half­way through his run.

Tough con­di­tions in­cluded tem­per­a­tures of about 18 F (mi­nus 8 C) and clouds hang­ing low over the Arc­tic course in Fin­nish La­p­land — in the north­ern­most World Cup com­pe­ti­tion. Sev­eral rac­ers com­plained about their gog­gles freez­ing up dur­ing their runs.

The men's World Cup con­tin­ues in Lake Louise, Al­berta, with a down­hill and a su­per-G on Novem­ber 26-27.

First placed Aus­tria's Mar­cel Hirscher, cen­ter, cel­e­brates with sec­ond placed Aus­tria's Michael Matt, left, and third placed Italy's Man­fred Moelgg

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