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Eight-time ski champ Hirscher ends retirement



Eight-time overall World Cup champion Marcel Hirscher is planning to return to ski racing next season after five years in retirement. And he is going to compete for the Netherlands — his mother’s country — instead of his native Austria.

The Austrian winter sports federation announced Wednesday that it had released the 35-year-old Hirscher and endorsed his nation change.

“We have of course tried very hard to offer Marcel the best possible and individual conditions in the event of a return to Alpine racing and were able to explain these to him in a personal exchange,” the federation, known as ÖSV, said. “Of course, we very much regret his decision to request a change of nation to the Dutch Ski Association but in the end we supported it.”

Hirscher was born and raised in Austria to an Austrian father and a Dutch mother, Sylvia. His father, Ferdinand, coached him throughout his career.

“I want to be able to compete again, because that is what I like. This new project is realized best as a Dutchman,” Hirscher said.

The Dutch Ski Federation said it was “delighted” with Hirscher’s choice.

“We will not only profit from his contribution in competition, but also from the wealth of knowledge and experience he will share with us,” the federation’s technical director Wopke de Vegt said.

Patrick Riml, the ski racing director at Red Bull, Hirscher’s sponsor, said Hirscher plans to enter lower-level FIS races in New Zealand in August to get the necessary points to return to the World Cup circuit and that his main aim is to compete at next season’s world championships in Saalbach-Hinterglemm, Austria.

“He’s been training the whole season. He’s been on snow pretty much every day of the winter testing his equipment,” Riml said, adding that Hirscher plans to compete in both slalom and giant slalom.

Hirscher retired in 2019 following his record eighth straight overall World Cup title.

So can he still compete at the highest level?

“He was amazing when he was racing. He was the best one out there,” Riml told The Associated Press. “Marcel is Marcel.”

Hirscher’s return follows that of another Red Bull athlete, Lucas Braathen, who is switching from Norway to Brazil — his mother’s home nation.

Skiers must comply with International Ski and Snowboard Federation rules to change national eligibility, though the process is made easier if the team they are leaving agrees to the move.

Riml said there was no shared planning or communication between Hirscher and Braathen and noted that Hirscher has not formally joined the Dutch association yet.

“My understanding is that the last couple of years, he was always thinking about it,” Riml said. “Then he decided on very, very short notice that he really wants to do this. And then we basically got to work trying to get all the documentations in place, and everything will be submitted today to the FIS council for approval, which is just a formality.”

Might Hirscher extend his comeback to the Milan-Cortina Olympics in 2026? Hirscher won two golds at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games and a bronze at the 2014 Sochi Games.

“It’s hard to predict anything right now,” Riml said. “We just have to see how things are going. It’s a step-by-step process. … The goal right now is to get back on track, train hard and get some first races and then see where he’s at. … Right now the goal is this season. But then then you never know, right?”

Riml stepped down as the U.S. Ski Team’s Alpine director a few months ago but remains a consultant for the Americans.

“This was not in the plan when it came up, but it’s very exciting for the sport in general,” Riml said of having Hirscher back along with Braathen.

So which skiers will change nations next?

“You never know what’s coming up,” Riml said. “I’m pretty sure that those two guys are inspirations for a lot of athletes. So we’ll see.”

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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