Hirscher equals World Cup record
Austrian struggles with media spotlight
Yet to win an Olympic gold medal
Also walks tight-ropes and rides dirt bikes
Marcel Hirscher is every inch the reluctant superstar.
His technical brilliance on the slopes have warranted four world championship titles and 39 World Cup race wins.
This season he has made more history by winning a fifth consecutive overall World Cup title, equaling the record of the great Marc Giradelli, his fellow Austrian who achieved his legendary quintet just shy of his 30th birthday.
Hirscher turned 27 this month but his unprecedented success, including eight wins already this season and 10 further podiums, has come at a price that, at times, he has been unwilling to pay.
“There are definitely weeks and months where I’ve thought, ‘I’m done with it’,” says the world’s leading male skier. “Sometimes I’m sick of it for sure, sometimes it’s too much for me.
“Sometimes the lack of privacy is not so easy to handle. If I want to go out for beers with friends, I know it will be in the newspapers tomorrow.
“If I want to go out for dinner with my girlfriend, it’s nearly not possible. If we do, you have to take selfies and do autographs for people. There are times that you can get tired of it.”
But every time he ponders skiing off into the sunset, he is lured back by his six-year-old self taking to the slopes for the very first time.
Even over two decades later, that six-year-old self always wins. “The positives always outweigh the negatives,” he says. “And if I knew then what I know now, my choices would still be the same.”
The gold medals, the World Cup globes and the sizable sponsorship deals have clearly helped soften the blow of the intrusion into his privacy, but it is not that straightforward.
“The hard part of it is my girlfriend (Laura). For me, there are many positives of this but she gets none of those. She definitely gets more negative things because of my success but she can handle it pretty well. For me, I just want to ski.”
His strengths are the technical events such as slalom and giant slalom – at a World Cup meet in Garmisch last March he won the latter by a staggering 3.28 seconds.
He jokes he has watched his run back over 100 times to unpick exactly what he did that day and why, seemingly, he was on another stratosphere to his peers.
“I think it’s nearly impossible to do again,” he says. “That day was the combination of snow, the conditions, the course, my physical strength, how I was mentally. It’s hard for it to all come together.”
How does Hirscher follow that and how does he remain motivated when he has won virtually everything attainable already?
“When I ski I want to be the best, so that’s the biggest motivation – and I hate losing,” he says. “That hatred of losing is one thing that motivates me. But sure, there are days when the motivation is hard.
“But what can you do? One day the motivation will run out and, when it does, I’ll retire.”
For all his success this season – which put him an unassailable 353 points ahead in the overall World Cup standings ahead of this week’s finale in St. Moritz – there have been some hair-raising moments.
A drone filming his slalom run at a race in Italy in December crashed onto the snow just inches away from him, an incident he described as “horrible.”
But despite the potential dangers of the slopes, the gold carrot dangling in the distance remains the same, an Olympic title.
For all his World Cup triumphs, Hirscher’s sole Olympic medal is a silver from Sochi two years ago; the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games is an obvious motivator.
“I’d love an Olympic title,” he says. “I’ve definitely not been super lucky at the Olympics. Twice I’ve been fourth and one time fifth place. I want Olympic gold but, if it does not happen, who cares. It will be one thing that’s not perfect.”
But the expectation is there from his fan base and a wider Austrian public that has come accustomed to a period of dominance akin to that of F1 star Michael Schumacher or British jump jockey AP McCoy.
“The expectation is always too much,” Hirscher says. “Not many people know how difficult it is to be on the top for many races and many years.
“People think that if you reach that top level it’s easy to hold that, but it’s actually much harder. So I think of each race as a new start.”
While his peers have recharged their batteries with beach holidays and time away from the high-octane world of skiing, Hirscher has done the opposite.
“With that, I feel fear,” he says. “Fear helps you to feel alive. If not, the day will come when it’s dangerous.”
There is an element of surprise still for Hirscher, whose breakout season was 2012, that he has managed to achieve such successes against skiers who used to be his idols.
“It’s like a young footballer playing with Cristiano Ronaldo, you’re like ‘Oh my God,’” he says of his early days on the World Cup circuit.
The only difference now is, Hirscher has become the Ronaldo of the slopes.
This story has been updated with confirmation that Hirscher had sealed the 2015-16 World Cup title ahead of the world championships.