December 03, 2015

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. (AP) Speed in a race car is no big deal for Austrian standout Marcel Hirscher. Catching air on his dirt bike hardly a concern.

Combine speed and jumps in a downhill race, though, and Hirscher's intimidated - really, really intimidated. That's why the winner of four straight World Cup overall titles doesn't do downhill events.

''How to explain it: It is too much for me,'' said Hirscher, a giant slalom and slalom savant.

Now he knows how his competitors feel because lately the 26-year-old has certainly been too much for everyone else. He's almost uncatchable these days, winning 28 World Cup races and finishing second in 19 more during his four-year reign at the top of the overall standings.

Should he capture another overall title this season, Hirscher can tie Marc Girardelli for most ever. Except Girardelli, an Austrian native who competed for Luxembourg, didn't win all five of his in a row.

''When you're going up against someone like Hirscher, who is beating records that are historically good, you have to respect the fact that he's doing something that's awesome,'' said Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal, who won the opening two speed races in Lake Louise, Alberta, last weekend as he returns from a torn Achilles tendon that kept him out of World Cup action a year ago. ''It's impressive.''

Hirscher doesn't feel any sort of pressure. He's gone through the same training program as always because, well, why alter what's clearly working.

''I'm just super prepared,'' said Hirscher, who took part in a downhill training run Wednesday at a slower speed - 6.77 seconds behind the top time - to get a feel for the Birds of Prey hill. ''I'm getting older and have more experience, so that makes it way easier to handle all the things around skiing.''

Once again, Hirscher's off to a solid start. He finished third during a season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, at the end of October. It was a race captured by American Ted Ligety, who's won five World Cup GS titles in his career and is set on taking back the trophy after losing it to Hirscher last season.

''That's the main goal this year, try to get the giant slalom title back,'' Ligety said. ''We'll see how it goes. I feel like I have a good chance at it, because I'm skiing a lot better than I was last year.''

Earlier in the week, Hirscher squeezed in some slalom training with rival Felix Neureuther of Germany. No better way to stay the best than by skiing right next to some of the best.

''I try to push my limits each day, every training run,'' said Hirscher, who races the occasional super-G, with his best finish third in 2012.

Over the summer, he raced cars against Neureuther and Svindal at the Red Bull Ring in Austria.

No surprise, Hirscher beat them.

''Maybe one of my biggest victories against Aksel and Felix,'' Hirscher joked.

So, he doesn't mind going fast in a race car just not on downhill skis?

''That's pretty simple to explain: I'm sitting more often in a race car than I'm skiing on downhill skis,'' Hirscher said. ''I'm jumping way more meters on my dirt bike than I do with downhill skis. I'm used to the dirt bike, but not downhill skis.''

Someone who has caught Hirscher's attention is American standout Mikaela Shiffrin. He can't believe the way she dominated two slalom races last weekend in Aspen, Colorado, winning one race by 3.07 seconds and the other by a 2.65 margin.

''Just amazing. So impressive to watch her,'' Hirscher said. ''She's dominating - really, really dominating.''

So is he and he has a simple explanation: ''When I was a little boy, I hated losing,'' he said.

Just how long he sticks around the circuit remains unclear. For sure through the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea and probably through the world championships the following year. After that, his plans become murky.

''Maybe in two years, I'll be just powder skiing,'' Hirscher said. ''Maybe I'm skiing until 36. Who knows? All doors are open.''

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