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Hirscher's win sets him up as next Austrian great

By Andrew Dampf

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Dec. 19 2011 11:35 a.m. MST

ALTA BADIA, Italy — Marcel Hirscher's slalom victory Monday revived Austria's chances of its first overall World Cup title in five years for men or women.

For Ted Ligety, a 10th-place finish marked improvement in an event he has struggled with recently and kept the American in the running for skiing's biggest prize.

Hirscher held onto his first-run lead and completed the Gran Risa course in a two-leg combined time of 1 minute, 47.16 seconds to overtake Aksel Lund Svindal for the overall World Cup lead.

Olympic slalom champion Giuliano Razzoli finished second, a distant 0.56 seconds behind, and Felix Neureuther of Germany was third, 0.60 back.

Svindal failed to qualify for the second run, placing 44th in the opening leg, and Hirscher moved nine points in front of the Norwegian, with Ligety 40 points behind in third.

The last Austrian man to win the overall title was Benjamin Raich in 2005-06, while Nicole Hosp took the women's title in 2006-07.

"At the moment it's not important for me, because it doesn't matter in which position you are at this point in the season," the 22-year-old Hirscher said. "It's not my first goal. It wasn't a goal for me two months ago. I never thought about it. Every race is a new race and a new chance for me. I want to go step by step. I'm still young and I have to learn a lot."

While Ligety has been virtually unbeatable in giant slalom over the past several seasons, he had gone nine consecutive races without a top-10 finish in slalom, a discipline he once excelled at more than GS. Now it appears his intense training over the summer is paying off.

Having already found some success in super-G, Ligety needed to rediscover his slalom form to have a shot at the overall title.

"I want to be in the mix and be in the mix enough where it's a possibility, because winning the overall is definitely a big goal," Ligety said. "So far the skiing in slalom is getting better and better."

Hirscher will now be expected to end the overall title drought for skiing's top nation.

"It's very big in Austria," Hirscher said. "Normally they are asking (Austria coach) Mathias Berthold who can win, and my name wasn't in this list. So I can do what I want and go step by step in my disciplines. The other guys — Benni (Raich), Romed (Baumann) — they are guys for the overall."

Perhaps, although Baumann sits 14th overall and Raich is just 24th.

And Hirscher won't have much time to adjust to his new expectations, with the next race a night slalom in retired Austrian great Hermann Maier's hometown of Flachau on Wednesday.

Known as the "Herminator," Maier won the overall four times between 1998 and 2004.

Hirscher's rise was not unexpected. At the 2007 junior worlds in Flachau, he won the giant slalom and finished second in the slalom.

Hirscher also won a giant slalom in Beaver Creek, Colo., earlier this month and now has five career victories. His performance this season is all the more impressive considering he broke a bone in his left foot just before last season's world championships and didn't resume training until the offseason.

"After a few months training I told my coach, 'Oh my god, I'm so focused on skiing at the moment,'" he said.

Among those failing to finish the opening run was Olympic combined champion Bode Miller.

Likely worn down after a week of downhill training and races, Miller lost control at the second gate in the opening run, spun around backward and had both of his skis pointing straight up into the air when he hit the ground.

After coming to a stop, Miller stared back up the mountain to see what tripped him up, then skied directly to the personal bus that he travels the circuit in — with Flachau and Hirscher mania the next stop.

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