The departure of Marcel Hirscher was foreseeable, and yet it seems to be a rude awakening. In Sölden, only two Austrians start in the top 30.
Something Marcel Hirscher is still there. On a screen, a film is running, the Salzburg drives to the finish, pulls up his arms; it shows the past, it's really about the future. It is the clip of a sponsor who has extended his contract with the Austrian Ski Association by three years. In the middle of the room in the team hotel of the Austrians, Peter Schröcksnadel peeps out from behind a desk. He says, "We are a bit secure for the future." The President of the ÖSV means the financial, not the sporty.
He has invited to the preseason press conference in Sölden. The walls of the room are paneled with pine wood, the orange carpet is interspersed with blue-green pattern, from the ceiling bulbs light up from a nest on sheets of metal. Nostalgia hangs in the room. It fits.
It is permanent present, what was in the last few years, as one of the Austrian ski people floating on a cloud like no one before him: Hirscher has not traveled to the Ötztal, with 30 and after eight victories in the overall World Cup he had enough. To say he left a gap would be a great understatement.
On the Lauberhorn slope in Wengen there is the Austrian hole, it now has a new meaning. On page 1 is written: "Sölden opens season after Hirscher". It went one who 67 times triumphed in the World Cup, in addition to eight big also won twelve small crystal balls, which is seven times world champion and two-time Olympic champion. There were years when Hirscher was responsible for all Austrian victories like in 2015/16. In the magazine for the World Cup opening Schröcksnadel welcomes the ski world on the first page with dry, unruly words, as is usual for the 78-year-old gentleman in a suit. The headline: "Sölden opens season after Hirscher." It says everything. His departure was foreseeable, and yet it seems to be a rude awakening.
In Sölden, only two Austrians start in the top 30
In the right corner of the room a group of athletes sit neatly on chairs. Their names? Dominik Raschner, Johannes Strolz, Patrick Feurstein, Magnus Walch, Stefan Brennsteiner or Roland Leitinger. They should own the future, the present will be less. Also Manuel Feller is there and speed driver Matthias Mayer, who tries again today at a giant slalom. It's the familiar faces. Marco Schwarz would still have the Austrians, the seventh best slalom driver of the last winter, but he is suffering from a cruciate ligament rupture. At the desk in the middle Schröcksnadel says: "The expectations are not so great, so big for Sölden." How should they be?
With Feller and Brennsteiner only two Austrians start in the first 30. It resembles a bankruptcy explanation for the proud Skination. Feller is on paper the new national number 1 in the giant slalom. 14th he was in the discipline rating in the previous winter, 13 places behind Hirscher. In the desperate search for a possible successor, the journalists of the country have come across him. The 27-year-old says: "I stay with my shoes, these are too big footprints to kick in. What Marcel has shown in recent years will never show up again." Mayer says: "We knew: he will judge it already".
Nevertheless, now others are required and talking in the many microphones. Like Feller. Like Michael Matt and Christian Hirschbühl who are supposed to stuff the hole in the slalom as good as they can. Or Matthias Mayer. He says, "Marcel has certainly put a lot of public pressure on us in recent years, through the successes and the certainty that we knew: it's still there at the start, he'll fix it." Hirscher will not do that anymore. You will feel it clearly in Austria.