Alpine Skiing

The Associated Press - Monday Feb. 3, 2014 13:01 ET

Austrian men's alpine team determined after 2010 disappointment

Reichelt is out, but Hirscher, Matt are contenders

Mario Matt is one of the best modern slalom skiers.
Mario Matt has 14 career slalom wins and 39 podium finishes. (Marco Tacca/Associated Press)

With injured Hannes Reichelt ruled out for the Olympics, Austria's main medal hopes for men's Alpine skiing in Sochi are with Marcel Hirscher, once again.

At last year's home world championships, the Austrian men failed to win any medal in the first week's speed events before Hirscher saved the ski-mad nation's honours by earning two golds and a silver in the technical disciplines.

A similar weight could be resting on Hirscher's shoulders in Sochi, where the former "Wunderteam" is eager to bounce back from becoming a flat-out flop at the Games four years ago.

The country with nearly twice as many Olympic Alpine medals as any other picked up only four in Vancouver, and zero by their men for the first time at an Olympics they entered.

"What happened four years ago is no issue anymore," men's head coach Mathias Berthold told The Associated Press. "Everybody is optimistic we'll get to the podium this time. The boys live from race to race."

Two-time overall World Cup champion Hirscher is confident he can handle the pressure again.

"A ski racer is like a child -- you may fall down sometimes but you always have to get up again," said Hirscher, who was fourth in GS and fifth in slalom four years ago.

Hirscher leads this season's World Cup standings in both disciplines. It's mainly in the speed events Austria has been struggling for years now.

Former world downhill champion Michael Walchhofer, who won Olympic silver in 2006, ended his career three years ago, leaving a gap the Austrians haven't been able to fill properly.

"Since Walchhofer retired, we haven't had a leader within the speed team like he was," Berthold said.

Being a GS specialist, Reichelt surprisingly became the only Austrian to win downhill races in the last two World Cup seasons.

However, two days after beating Aksel Lund Svindal and Bode Miller to win the classic Hahnenkamm downhill in Kitzbuehel, Reichelt needed surgery on persistent back problems and had to end his season prematurely.

The Austrian speed racers don't look back in anger to Vancouver, and neither do the slalom and GS specialists.

"No one on the team speaks about Vancouver anymore so it doesn't put extra pressure on us," two-time world slalom champion Mario Matt said. "We live here and now. In the end, everyone is racing for himself. You don't think about whether the team has already won medals or not."

Matt and Hirscher combined have earned three wins and four more top-three finishes in World Cup slaloms this season, leaving Austria a strong favourite for gold in the discipline in Sochi.

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