Austrian alpine skiing hero Marcel Hirscher said goodbye to the sport on WednesdayAustrian alpine skiing hero Marcel Hirscher said goodbye to the sport on Wednesday (AFP Photo/JAVIER SORIANO)
Salzburg (Austria) (AFP) - Austria's Marcel Hirscher, who announced his retirement Wednesday aged just 30, is a hero in his homeland for his exceptional skiing talent and an idol who didn't let the trappings of fame change his discreet and reserved character.
His extraordinary record includes being a record eight-time World Cup champion and has prompted some to ask whether he is the best skier of all time.
However, he has achieved these heights without the flamboyance of some of his predecessors, such as Austria's Herman "Herminator" Maier and the United States' Bode Miller.
Instead Hirscher lets his performance on the slopes do the talking.
There, he has regularly crushed his rivals -- as in Garmisch in March 2015 where Germany's Felix Neureuther came in 3.28 seconds behind him, a massive gap in a sport in which every hundredth of a second is crucial.
Hirscher also competes with an obsessive attention to detail which was on show at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.
Most of his competitors brought around 15 pairs of skis, but Hirscher brought along no fewer than 92 -- preparation which was rewarded with two gold medals.
- 'Austria's Federer' -
Born on March 2, 1989, in the village of Annaberg-Lungoetz near Salzburg, Hirscher was already on skis from the age of two. Both his Dutch mother and his Austrian father were skiing instructors.
His father Ferdinand took to accompanying his son to all his competitions and has become a well-known figure in Austria with his signature bushy white moustache.
Like many other ski racers in the small Alpine country, Hirscher began intensive training at the age of 10.
He dreamed of following in the footsteps of his idol Benjamin Raich, who won the overall World Cup in 2006, and like Hirscher specialised in slalom and giant slalom.
Hirscher grabbed his own maiden overall World Cup win in 2012, the first of eight consecutive victories which cemented his place in history.
His mastery of the snow made him king of skiing in one of the world's most ski-mad countries, where all major races are broadcast on national television.
He has won Austria's Athlete of the Year competition five times, first in 2012 and then from 2015 to 2018.
"He is the equivalent of (tennis star) Roger Federer in Switzerland. Covering him is a full-time job," Alex Hofstetter, a sports journalist with Austrian tabloid Kronen Zeitung, told AFP, adding he was "clearly our main priority".
But Hirscher doesn't seem to bask in the attention: when he goes to the cinema, he sneaks in only once the film has started and leaves before the end.
Instead he prioritises time with his family -- he married his wife Laura last summer before the birth of their son a few months later.
- Helicopters and private jets -
When not excelling on the slopes, Hirscher's steely blue eyes are often to be seen on adverts for one his generous commercial sponsors.
He often travels by helicopter or private jet to avoid the long hours on winding alpine roads that his competitors take.
He doesn't train with the Austrian team and organises his own press conferences that come with the relentless victories.
These are rarely exciting or full of bravado.
When asked in one interview last year about the possibility of setting further records, he simply replied: "I don't look at statistics. I will look back on my career when I'm retired, in my armchair with a good glass of red wine."
As early as 2014 he had openly started to muse about whether to retire, suggesting he would not go to the Pyeongchang Olympics.
He ended up taking part -- and winning his first Olympic titles.
"Marcel Hirscher? He has it all. He is strong physically and mentally", says Sweden's Ingemar Stenmark, another man of few words who holds one of the few records that has eluded the Austrian: 86 World Cup race wins between 1974 and 1989, while Hirscher has 67.
"Even if he has a bad first run, he can always come back in the second run. And if he has a bad race, it doesn't stress him. He comes back stronger after that. I would not have had a chance against him."