By Manuele Lang
WENGEN, Switzerland, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Since getting within touching distance of the podium in Vancouver four years ago, Marcel Hirscher has overcome injury, matched a decade-old achievement and now travels to the Sochi Olympics as a medal favourite in the technical skiing events.
The 24-year old Austrian finished on the podium in all but two of the 11 World Cup races he entered this season, with two victories each in giant slalom and slalom, the race where his gold medal chances are tipped to be the highest.
In the 2010 Games, Hirscher came fourth in the giant slalom and fifth in the slalom. A broken bone in his foot then ruled him out of the 2011 World Cup, but he returned in full swing to win the overall World Cup in 2012 and 2013.
Nobody had retained what is considered the ultimate skiing title - the overall Cup spans the entire season and races in all disciplines - since his compatriot Stephan Eberharter claimed the big crystal globe in 2002 and 2003.
Hirscher also won the giant slalom globe in 2012 and the slalom globe last year, making it onto the podium in all slalom races that season.
He says his success has made him grow calmer, and his secret seems to be his ability to block out everything but the next race and to take full risk every time.
"I'm trying to do the all or nothing technique. When you give a lot, you receive a lot," Hirscher told Reuters after finishing third in last weekend's slalom in Wengen.
"Of course when you play this game, you can also be the guy who loses everything," he added.
Hirscher grew up in a mountain chalet run by his parents. His father also led a ski school, so Hirscher learned the sport at age two. With little distraction around, he spent much of his time training - one reason he doesn't mind training hard today.
His family ties are still very close, his father Ferdinand being one of his closest supporters, giving him advice on his choice of skis and checking the course conditions before races.
No wonder then that Hirscher named the baby reindeer he was awarded as a prize for winning the first slalom of the season in Levi, Finland, after his father.
One member of his family - his father, Dutch mother Sylvia or his look-alike younger brother Leon - usually travels with him in his entourage. He also has a dog, named Timon, whom he has called his 'mental guru'.
Such ties may be why skiing is not everything for Hirscher.
"Victory is important to me. That's how I can confirm what I like to do the most: to ski fast," he said.
"But I'm not measuring my happiness with what I'm doing on skies...I like to win a medal, or a World Cup, but that's not the only synonym of happiness."
Currently second in the World Cup standings behind Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal, the slalom world champion will certainly leave his mark in the World Cup history.
But his Olympic story is still unfinished and he may remember what veteran Hermann Maier, whom he admired since the skiing legend talked to Hirscher in his childhood days, achieved at the Olympics.
Maier won two golds in 1998 and a bronze and a silver in 2006.
His team mates are likely to count on Hirscher, too. Having left Vancouver empty handed, the prestigious Austrian men's team has a reputation to win back. (Writing by Annika Breidthardt; Editing by Julien Pretot)
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