Hometown Hirsher takes The Night Race win
SCHLADMING, Austria—Marcel Hirscher skied to his sixth win of the season here tonight in front of 45,000 spectators screaming for him and igniting flares a plenty, blowing horns, and waving red and white flags.
With a total time of 1 minute, 43.01 seconds, Hirscher took home his first career victory in Schladming, just a 30 minute drive from his hometown. He snuck by Stefano Gross by 0.22 seconds. Mario Matt rounded out the podium in third, 0.29 behind Hirscher.
“50,000 honey bees are behind you so you want to go pretty fast,” Hirscher said about skiing in Austria. His first run was fast: 50.13 seconds, 0.75 ahead of Mario Matt in spot two.
The weather wasn't helping the other racers catch him; snow continued to fall on the Planai track. But that didn't prevent the course crew from giving the 50,000 spectators what they wanted tonight—The Night Race. Just prior to the first forerunner—World Cup Slalom Champion Marlies Schild—skied down, course workers were hosing down the bottom of the track, salting, and slipping. Considering the conditions, Schild said: “I think they did a very good job.”
After being disqualified for straddling in the last two slaloms, and controversy surrounding Hirscher's previous victories, the 22-year old was particularly pleased with this hometown win.
“It means a lot to me especially after this,” he said, moments after being pronounced the winner. “It's been the hardest time in my career. It's been pretty tough, maybe I made some small mistakes. It's a new situation for me. To have another victory, here, in Schladming—I live 30 minutes by car away from here—I thank everyone from my nation, what a wonderful feeling it is.”
Though “boos” were heard for Ivica Kostelic tonight due to a storied week of drama on the circuit, his skiing did the talking—he narrowly missed the podium, just 0.01 behind Matt for fourth. He refused to make any statements tonight about the controversy, and the racers said they have put the drama behind them.
Hirscher said he was happy that he and Kostelic met on Monday and came to some conclusions, respecting each other's opinions. The drama was seemingly suppressed by their actions to talk it out and FIS Chief of Race Gunter Hujara confirming that no straddles occurred in the Zagreb and Adelboden races. Nonetheless, there was still fear by the organizers that snowballs would be directed at Kostelic during the race tonight, but through the mitigation of all parties, no violence occurred.
“The most important thing is that sport brings people together,” Hirscher said. “...I'm pretty happy that all of the thousands of fans were friendly and nothing happened and thanks so much to all of them.”
Gross, with a blazing fast second run at 51.89, put the Italian into second place and gave him his second career podium.
“It's a beautiful moment for me,” Gross said. “I skied fast in training. It was not that easy, the conditions were not easy, but today I skied fast.”
Matt, who now has a total of four career podiums in Schladming, got his second win of the season. Matt said he was happy with a podium, but disappointed with third just like last weekend in Kitzbuhel where he finished second behind Cristian Deville.
“I was focused on the win today,” Matt said. “I made a really good run until the flat part and then I didn't ski like I wanted.”
Impressive skiing came from darkhorse Naoki Yuasa with a speedy second run that put pressure on the following competitors. Yuasa watched six top skiers walk past him in the leader box, all giving him high fives. He finally got knocked out, and finished fifth—the best result for a Japanese racer in six seasons.