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Alpine skiing:Hirscher risks all to give Austria golden climax

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Taking every risk even if it meant skiing out of the race was how Marcel Hirscher became slalom world champion here on Sunday, bringing ski-mad host nation Austria its elusive first individual gold medal.

The 23-year-old overall World Cup winner, who collapsed with joy after crossing the finish line and was bouncing around in celebration during the medal ceremony admitted however to being exhausted after two weeks of intense training and racing here.

The darling of the Austrian media had the weight of a nation on his shoulders going into Sunday's race but turned in a dashing performance over two slalom runs to bring home gold, ahead of Germany's Felix Neureuther and compatriot Mario Matt.

"Better to ski out than be in fourth place. That was my decision," Hirscher, who again leads the overall World Cup rankings, said of his mindset before the second run after clocking the fastest time in the first run.

"For me, it's a lot more positive to go out with a good split time than to go over the finish line with a bad result."

In just six days, Hirscher gave hope to a despairing Austria by helping the country to gold in the team event before taking silver in the giant slalom and individual gold on Sunday.

"Right now I'm getting tired, which is an awesome feeling. I was on fire for 14 days, totally on fire. Now it's nice to get relaxed," said a subdued Hirscher, after the initial excitement had worn off.

"I'm over the moon that I managed this and I'm happy it's over. I wouldn't survive four weeks of world championships: it's really tiring and I'm seeing a lot of tired faces already."

The notoriously grounded racer insisted: "All in all, it is only a game, a game where medals are given away.

"But it was fun to be part of this game," he added.

"The moment when I went over the finish line, I found that very emotional. That's the moment that most sticks with me right now."

Twitter congratulations poured in from fellow skiers after Hirscher's win, with many acknowledging the pressure that Austria's favourite son had been under to deliver gold.

"Just unbelievable, impressive and outstanding. Congrats! Winning this race with this pressure... #hero," tweeted super-combined world champion Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany.

US skier Ted Ligety, who went out in the first slalom run after an amazing two weeks where he won three world titles, added: "Marcel Hirscher winning the slalom felt inevitable. Way to perform under the home pressure. #impressive."

Norway's Kjetil Jansrud meanwhile described the pressure on the Austrian's shoulders as "inhuman".

"Hero and most of all Champion! Congrats!" tweeted super-G world champion Tina Maze.

After a friendly rivalry with Hirscher all season, slalom silver-medallist Neureuther joked that he knew how well he was racing by the lack of cheering from the Austrian crowd.

"I knew if the crowd is quiet then I'm fast, and it was really quiet! That was the most pleasant silence I've ever experienced!.

"In terms of drama, you couldn't have scripted it better," he said of the nail-biting finale between Hirscher and him.

"There's no better advertisement for skiing than today.

"I kept thinking maybe Marcel will make a little mistake there, or there. But he didn't do me that favour and he's a deserved world champion."

Matt was humbled by his bronze medal, 12 years after he took the slalom world title on home soil in Sankt Anton and six years after a repeat gold in Are.

"Time is running so fast... I had some difficult years with accidents, I broke my shoulder, I had to fight really hard to come back in slalom," said the 33-year-old.

"You need to always keep on fighting and working hard. And I'm happy that I still can race with the best in the world."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130217/alpine-skiinghirscher-risks-all-give-austria-golden-climax