“It wasn’t really surprising but I’m bummed about it,” Mikaela Shiffrin tells Eurosport of Hirscher’s retirement at the Atomic media day.
Walking around the Atomic factory and seeing all the pictures of him now he’s retired, for me it’s so weird.
It’s hard to disagree with Shiffrin, much in the same vein that her eventual retirement will, Hirscher’s decision to step away from the sport has left a huge void.
It’s been just over a month since the seven-time world champion confirmed that he would call it a day at the age of 30 and at the very top of his game, but it is still hard not to feel the presence of one of the sport’s biggest stars at the Atomic factory in Austria.
Mikaela Shiffrin at the Atomic media day (Credit Atomic)
Image credit: Eurosport
Hirscher’s decision to step away came as little surprise to those who have tracked his recent career, Shiffrin herself said you could always tell it was on his mind.
“I wasn’t surprised, because he had been talking about it and I feel like once you’re talking about it then it starts to become more of a reality.
“And when he was saying it, it wasn’t like he was joking, you could tell he was serious.”
Yet, despite the numerous flirtations with retirement the actual announcement was still shrouded in mystery.
Austrian team-mates Manuel Feller and Marco Schwarz both admitted that they didn’t actually know what Hirscher’s decision was going to be until he announced it that evening.
Shiffrin: It's 'so weird' to start new alpine season without legend Hirscher
“Actually I found out when everyone else did,” Feller says when asked by Eurosport when he learned of Hirscher’s decision. While Schwarz admits his own surprise saying “[I found out] the day he made it official, I wasn’t confused but I thought he would go on; then he retired, it is really sad."
In fact, Feller told Eurosport that he was training with Hirscher right through the spring and it was intense as it ever had been.
"In spring time we were training together already, doing physical training and stuff like that.
He was really motivated for another season but I don’t know why or what but something changed and he definitely had reasons why he said 'okay that’s enough'.
“I think it’s definitely the right time for him, he’s on the top and especially because he’s fit and healthy with no injuries so he can play with his son and family and that’s the most important thing.”
Hirscher’s late, and surprise, entrance at the event was in many ways the perfect metaphor for his career, whether he liked it or not all eyes were on Hirscher, that’s the price he has had to pay for his extraordinary talent, and he did his best avoid the limelight.
“I will always be a ski racing fan and watch you guys on TV,“ said a smiling Hirscher during his very brief appearance on stage whilst a typically honest Sofia Goggia said “the show must go on.”
It will do, with the new season kicking off next week in Solden but Hirscher will still dominate the headlines for a little while longer, how could that not be the case when the future stars have been so heavily influenced by his brilliance.
Image credit: Getty Images
“I was always so excited to watch him race in particular, I just always felt it was so exciting to watch him even though he won so consistently.” Shiffrin says before conversation naturally turns to whether Hirscher is the greatest ever.
It’s hard to say, in my opinion he’s certainly one of the best. The way that he dominated, especially in the tech disciplines, he’s top of my list
“But it depends who you ask - there’s so many different ways to categorise it (you could say the person who had the most wins or the person who had the best season) but for me he’s the greatest in my eyes...but there’s always an argument.”
Feller pointed to Hirscher’s incredible ability to lock in as one of the key takeaways he took from training with his compatriot.
“I learned a lot from him. He taught me a lot of stuff on the skis, but he taught me even more off skis.
“How to handle stuff and I think that was one of his most important talents he had, to be able to just block out stuff and take his whole aggression to the start and put it into the run.”
“We trained together, we raced together, we had the same skis; I learned a lot from him, and he was really inspiring,” Schwarz says before being asked whether he was the best ever?
Feller thoughtfully summed up the situation extremely well, ironically when discussing his own nickname (suspected to be a Hirscher creation) of “The Rock Star of Skiing” and how important it is to be true to oneself.
“That’s the most important thing in life, to not be changed by anybody, always stay on your line and don’t let anybody bring you off this way.
“If you're always yourself you can never regret anything.”
Hirscher was always himself, and surely he can have no regrets as he prepares for the next step in life.