PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Now it is clear exactly how much it hurts Marcel Hirscher not to have an OIympic title in slalom.
After a stunning early exit in his best event, the 28-year-old Austrian star was ready to publicly rewrite his career plans.
“I need a gold medal in slalom,” Hirscher told reporters Thursday, minutes after failing to get halfway down a first-run course set by his own coach.
The 2022 Beijing Olympics seems in play, days after it certainly was not. Not after Hirscher added the giant slalom gold medal to the Alpine combined he already won at the Pyeongchang Games.
“No,” was Hirscher’s instant response when asked Sunday if he could race in another Olympics. Would this be his last one? “I think so.”
Hirscher’s place in Alpine skiing history is secure.
He should secure a record-extending seventh straight overall World Cup title as the season’s best all-around skier. His 55 World Cup race wins are second only to Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark on the all-time men’s list.
But an Olympic gold medal in slalom is the one big gap in Hirscher’s impressive resume, even if he has two from the world championships he won in 2013 and ’17.
His Olympic record in slalom: fifth at the 2010 Vancouver Games, silver at the 2014 Sochi Games behind teammate Mario Matt, a DNF (Did Not Finish) at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.
A victory on Thursday would have meant a sweep of the technical races — slalom and giant slalom — at the same Olympics. Just like Stenmark at the 1980 Lake Placid Games and Alberto Tomba of Italy at the 1988 Calgary Games.
Hirscher was seeking to become just the fourth Alpine skier to win three golds at a single Winter Games, and the first man since Jean-Claude Killy on home snow in France 50 years ago.
His tilt at history ended quickly.
Hirscher always looked uneasy and lost speed at one combination of gates. He trailed by more than a half-second at the midway time split before going off the course.
“I had already really a bad feeling about the whole situation,” Hirscher said, acknowledging he had some “really bad training days here.”
Still, he smiled for the television cameras as he dressed in the finish area before talking to reporters.
“Hopefully there are still tickets available for a plane right now,” Hirscher said, describing his Olympics as “amazing and really perfect.”
It has been more than two years since Hirscher last failed to finish in slalom — a span of 21 races, including his 2017 world titles. His previous failure also occurred on the dry Asian snow — which typically does not have the slick, icy surface he prefers — found at Yuzawa Naeba, Japan.
“If it is grippy and hard, packed snow like here today for example, I’m really not able to handle this,” Hirscher said.
Even on unfamiliar snow, there was little sign it would not be his day in an expected duel with Henrik Kristoffersen of Norway.
In eight World Cup slaloms this season, Hirscher won six, was runner-up once to Kristoffersen and placed 17th when he raced in November with just a few days of training after breaking his ankle in August.
Hirscher’s road to Beijing starts now.
AP Sports Writer John Leicester contributed to this report
More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org