SCHLADMING, Austria- When you have been on the World Cup Tour for 19 years, and have pushed out of the starting gate 368 times it’s hard to say goodbye. Sunday’s Giant Slalom race might have been a turning point for Marcel Hirscher who took home whatever one could take in a single day of skiracing, but at the beginning of the second run all eyes were set on Didier Cuche. At 12.30 sharp, the 37 years old Swiss champion left the start house for the 369th time, his last one. The four minutes long run that followed was what he later called the longest, most difficult and most emotional run of his outstanding career.
Cuche started his long career on the 29th December 1993 at the infamous Bormio Downhill. He finished second last, in 57th position almost seven seconds behind Hannes Trinkl who won the race. None of the other skiers competing in that race have been active for a long time.
He might have not made wonders at his debut in the World Cup, but a year and a half later he finally scored his first World Cup points. A first in Italy again for Cuche, but this time it occurred in Val Gardena; he finished 21st in the 1995 Downhill, and went back to win the Super G in 2007.
It was the 21st of January 1998 when he won his first race, and Cuche did not win just any race- he won the Kitzbuchel Hahnenkamm, one of the most attractive and famous races in alpine skiing. Ten years later, in 2008 Cuche did it again, and for the past three seasons he kept doing it again and again, winning that race a record five times- more than anyone before him.
Cuche is also the proud owner of a Super G silver medal form the 1998 Olympic Games in Nagano, a gold Super G medal form the 2009 World Championship in Val d’Isere, where he also got a silver in the Downhill. His World Championship collection includes also a bronze from the Giant Slalom in Are (2007) and last but not least a silver form last season’s Downhill in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
In case that was not an impressive enough list of achievements, he adds to his name a total of 67 World Cup podiums, including 21 victories. Less than a month ago, in the Super G in Crans Montana, Cuche climbed on top of the podium for the very last time in front of a cheering home crowd.
Already owning 4 Downhill globes, and one Super G, he might have missed this year’s Super G title to Svindal by only 13 points but Cuche had a great year nevertheless. Today he said goodbye not only to an amazing career, but also to an outstanding season. He won four races and stood on the podium three more times, and they say there is no better time to leave than when you are at your best.
““It was fun to come down the slope with some old skis today- in the past 40 or 60 years skiracing and material has gone so much forward. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions and even though I love the sport, I know I don’t have the motivation for all the aspects that need to be covered if I want to keep racing. It was time for me to go…”
Cuche’s last run included a few stops and a few falls but he made it through all the gates and was greeted in the finish area by a bottle of champagne, some cheering teammates and a crowd which kept calling his name. A lot of “Thank you”, “Merci” and “We will miss you” notes could be spotted in the crowd today but probably the most touching part of today was seeing all the skiers which competed in today’s race paying tribute to Cuche by attempting the ski flip which has been his signature mark over the years. Some managed to do it well, some fell trying, some might need a couple more tries before they get it right…
For all I know the perfect ski flip belongs to one guy and today we all saw him close one chapter and open a new one. Thank you Didier for all you have done over the years and we all wish you the best in whatever new adventures you undertake.
by Ana Jelusic