Alpine skiing-Austrian ski great Hirscher going Dutch for comeback

FILE PHOTO: Alpine Skiing - FIS Alpine Ski World Cup - Men's Downhill - Kitzbuehel, Austria - January 20, 2022 Forerunner, Austria's Marcel Hirscher in action during the men's downhill REUTERS/Lisi Niesner/File Photo

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Alpine skiing great Marcel Hirscher is looking to make an unexpected comeback to the slopes, made even more surprising by his decision to represent his mother native's country the Netherlands instead of Austria.

Born in Austria in 1989, Hirscher has a Dutch mother and an Austrian father and holds both nationalities himself. He represented Austria throughout his career.

"I want to be able to compete again, because that is what I like. This new project is realised best as a Dutchman," the 35-year-old said on Wednesday.

Hirscher retired in September 2019 as one of Austria's most successful skiers ever, winning a record eight overall World Cup titles in a row between 2012 and 2019, along with seven World Championship gold medals and two Olympic titles.

The Austrian Ski Federation said it regretted Hirscher's move to the mountainless Netherlands, a minnow in the international alpine skiing world.

"We have tried to offer Marcel the best conditions for a potential comeback," the Austrian federation said in a statement.

"Of course we very much regret his decision to switch to the Dutch federation, but in the end we also support it. Marcel's achievements for the sport and the Austrian federation have been enormous."

Around a million Dutch tourists travel to ski resorts in Austria and its neighbouring countries every year, but the country has only a few competitive skiers and has never won an international medal.

The Dutch Ski Federation said it was "delighted" with Hirscher's choice.

"We will not only profit from his contribution in competition, but also from the wealth of knowledge and experience he will share with us," the federation's technical director Wopke de Vegt said.

The Dutch federation said Hirscher would now focus on preparing for the 2024-25 season, and that decisions on his exact programme would be taken at a later date.

(Reporting by Bart Meijer; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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