March 12, 2015

VIENNA (AP) Austrian skier Mario Matt has retired from the sport, a year after becoming the oldest Olympic gold medalist in Alpine skiing.

''I've found out this season that ski racing isn't the most important thing in my life anymore,'' Matt said Thursday. ''While training on prepared, icy slopes, I knew I'd rather go powder skiing.''

Matt, a two-time world champion who turns 36 next month, has an ankle injury and won't start in the two remaining slaloms this season - in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, on Sunday and in Meribel, France, next week.

''Those two world championships were great but winning Olympic gold at my last opportunity was the crown on my career,'' said Matt, whose triumph at the Sochi Olympics came four years after he had dropped to 31st in the slalom rankings and wasn't even included in the Austrian team for the Vancouver Games.

A month after his World Cup debut in December 1999, Matt won his first of 15 races, triumphing with start number of 50 in Kitzbuehel. He also competed in giant slalom and combined events until 2009.

He took the world slalom titles in 2001 - in his native St. Anton - and in 2007, and added a bronze medal two years ago. Hampered by a hurt ankle after a training crash days before, he failed to finish the opening run at last month's world championships in Colorado.

''Becoming world champion as a young and carefree racer in front of my home crowd was a great experience,'' said Matt, who struggled for two seasons with persistent shoulder problems following a crash in Kitzbuehel in 2002. ''But coming back from the injury and winning a second world title was probably even more special.''

Matt runs a bar in St. Anton and spends much time away from the slopes breeding Arabian horses. His younger brother, Andreas, was the 2009 world champion and 2010 Olympic silver medalist in ski cross.

Matt already considered retirement after winning Olympic gold last year. But the joy of competing and the prospect of racing at another major event kept him going.

''It wasn't the right time to say goodbye last year,'' he said. ''I didn't have the feeling it was all over. Unfortunately, I haven't scored the results this season but I know I can still compete with the fastest.''

Matt had a rough start to the season as he failed to score points in the first five races. His last win came in Val d'Isere, France, in December 2013, and he failed to finish in nine of the 15 races since. Placing 12th in Kitzbuehel in January has been the best result in his farewell season.

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