Hirscher leads WCup GS after 1st run, closes in on title
KRANJSKA GORA, Slovenia (AP) Having retained his World Cup giant slalom title with a race to spare, Marcel Hirscher can start preparing for an even bigger celebration.
By winning Saturday's GS, the Austrian extended his lead in the overall standings to 333 points, leaving him with only a mathematical chance of missing out on his fifth straight overall title.
Hirscher's sole rival, the Norwegian slalom specialist Henrik Kristoffersen, has just three technical races left, and could only make up the deficit if he starts racing in speed events - which he hasn't done before at a World Cup level.
''I still can't believe it,'' Hirscher said. ''Everyone is talking about it but I only believe it after I've checked all calculations.''
Hirscher would match the best mark set by Austrian-born Marc Girardelli. Competing for Luxembourg, Girardelli won his fifth and last overall title in 1993.
Hirscher, however, would be the only male skier to have won five titles in a row, a feat achieved once on the women's World Cup - by fellow Austrian Annemarie Moser-Proell in the 1970s.
Hirscher won Saturday's next-to-last giant slalom to build an insurmountable 111-point lead in the discipline standings. The last GS is at the World Cup finals in two weeks.
It's the third GS globe for Hirscher, who won last year and also in 2012.
Added to his four overall and three slaloms titles, Hirscher has won 10 crystal globes. It puts him level with Phil Mahre of the United States in sixth on the all-time list, led by Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark with 16 titles.
The Austrian held on to his first-run lead to finish 0.53 seconds ahead of Alexis Pinturault of France, who had won the past four giant slaloms. Kristoffersen was 1.59 back in third.
''I am really happy about it,'' Hirscher said. ''It wasn't easy in the last couple of giant slaloms. But today was really cool.''
Pinturault beat Hirscher in a shortened GS due to overnight snowfall on Friday, but conditions were different for Saturday's race. Freezing temperatures had turned the Podkoren into a very rough and bumpy course.
Low clouds made for flat light, and visibility was further hampered in the second run by fog and snowfall.
Hirscher carried a 0.41-second lead over Pinturault into the final run, but had lost that advantage at the first split time.
However, Hirscher accelerated and skied the steep bottom part flawlessly to regain more than a half-second on the Frenchman.
''I knew Alexis and Henrik had done their job pretty good. So I knew I had to do my best,'' Hirscher said.
Hirscher has also a slim chance to win the slalom title as he trails Kristoffersen by 131 points with two races remaining. The Norwegian will secure that title in Sunday's slalom if he doesn't lose more than 30 points on the Austrian.
''Henrik can only beat himself. You have to be realistic,'' said Hirscher, who won the slalom title the past three seasons.