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Austria's Hirscher wins World Cup overall title

By Eric Willemsen

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, March 17 2012 12:38 p.m. MDT

Austria's Marcel Hirscher holds the trophy he won for clinching the alpine ski, men's World Cup giant slalom discipline title, in Schladming, Austria, Saturday, March 17, 2012. Marcel Hirscher has won the overall World Cup championship. The Austrian won Saturday's final giant slalom of the season to take the discipline title and go top of the overall standings.

Alessandro Trovati, Associated Press

SCHLADMING, Austria — Marcel Hirscher understood the immense expectations of a ski-mad nation. Now, having met them all, he knows the joy that goes with it.

Hirscher gave Austria its first overall World Cup title since 2006. He did so by winning Saturday's final giant slalom of the season that also gave him the discipline title.

He holds a 25-point overall lead over speed specialist Beat Feuz of Switzerland, who says he will not start Sunday's slalom in the season finale.

"It's all very emotional for me," Hirscher said. "Nearly everybody in Austria is waiting for miracles, expects me to win races and globes. That's pretty tough for me. It has put a lot of pressure on my shoulders."

The 23-year-old Hirscher is the fifth Austrian to win the overall title and the first since Benjamin Raich in 2006. The others are Franz Klammer, Hermann Maier and Stephen Eberharter.

Hirscher takes the title from Ivica Kostelic of Croatia, who looked well on his way to successfully defending it until injuring his right knee in the Sochi downhill in February and needing surgery.

Hirscher said he was "not going to jump for joy" until he got official confirmation Feuz is skipping the final race. It seems unlikely Feuz will change his mind. He has never scored a World Cup point in slalom and to turn things around would need a top-10 finish while Hirscher fails to score points.

"This was my last race of the season," Feuz said after coming 21st in the GS. "I've given everything I had but it was not enough."

By winning the overall and GS titles, and possibly the slalom title Sunday, Hirscher is basking in a season of unexpected success.

During the offseason, he broke bone in his left foot. He started the season with moderate prospects, but got stronger as it went on. He won nine races and became the front-runner of a revived Austrian "Wunderteam," which also claimed the downhill title, won by Klaus Kroell.

"I don't get it, unbelievable," Hirscher said. "I was well behind couple of times this season. I told myself that the race today was the same as a race in January to take the pressure off. ... It's incredible how many emotions you feel when crossing the finish line and seeing that you are No. 1."

Hirscher had already secured the GS title after the opening run, in which American rival Ted Ligety skied off course.

"To know that I had won that globe was a relief," Hirscher said. "It helped me to relax and have an attacking but clean second run."

Ligety, who won three GS titles in the past four seasons, trailed Hirscher by 92 points and, with a victory worth 100 points, had to win the race to stand a chance of overtaking the Austrian.

Ligety led by 0.43 seconds at the final intermediate time but skied off-course. He hiked back up the hill to complete his run but finished 11.16 seconds off the lead.

"There was only one option today — winning or going home," Ligety said. "I just wanted to get another win under my belt. I was going hard but that is what can happen when you're charging. A bummer for sure and somewhat frustrating ... I tried everything so I can't blame myself."

Ligety posted the fastest time in the second run but his deficit was too big and he finished 25th.

Ligety won two GS races and led the standings early in the season, but had since been playing catch-up with Hirscher. Ligety added a third victory last weekend in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, to retain his slim chance.

"With the season he's had, he deserved to win the globe," the American said of Hirscher. "For me it was a good year, it's just that someone else was better."

Hirscher won four GS races and nine events in total this season.

"What happened to Ted could have happened to me as well," said Hirscher, who won the event in 2 minutes, 25.52 seconds to lead an Austrian sweep of the podium.

It was an all-Austrian podium as Hannes Reichelt, who led after the first run, came 0.19 behind in second and Marcel Mathis was third, 0.55 behind.

Didier Cuche celebrated his retirement by wearing an outfit from the 1950s including a backpack and wooden skis. The Swiss standout slid down the hill at a slow pace and stopped several times to greet and hug officials and coaches along the course.

It took him 5 minutes, 44 seconds to complete his run. After crossing the finish line, Cuche showed his trademark ski flip for a last time, cheered on by thousands of fans in the Planai stadium.

Since his World Cup debut in 1998, Cuche competed in 358 World Cup races. He won 21 events and was the season's downhill champion four times.

"Ski retiree sounds a bit weird but I will get used to it," Cuche said. "I believe it was the right decision."

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