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Austria's 'old guy' Reichelt still living downhill dream

China Daily | Updated: 2019-12-09 10:06
Hannes Reichelt of Austria takes flight during the men's downhill race in the Birds of Prey FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup at Beaver Creek in Colorado Dec 7, 2019. Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports [Photo/Agencies]

Veteran racer continuing to chase World Cup glory on the slopes at age of 39

BEAVER CREEK, Colorado-At this precise moment, nothing hurts or aches for Hannes Reichelt.

The 39-year-old Austrian ski racer counts that as a big victory in itself. One of the oldest competitors on the World Cup scene this season, he's hardly feeling his age-for now.

His goal? Race against these youngsters until the 2021 world championships in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy.

His provision to that goal? Only if he remains competitive. Any signs of slowing down will force Reichelt to reconsider that decision.

To be back in Beaver Creek, makes him feel young again. This was the spot where he won his first World Cup race, a super-G, in 2005. In all, he's had three super-G victories at the venue and captured his only world championship title on the hill in 2015. Indeed, the slope provides a little fountain of youth for him.

"He looks really young-for his age," teammate Vincent Kriechmayr cracked after a downhill training run on Wednesday where American Ryan Cochran-Siegle turned in the fastest time.

"I can learn many things from this old guy. He's one of the best. He's an idol for many kids."

Through all the bumps, crashes and spills, Reichelt still feels remarkably good. Maybe even the best he's felt in a while. There are no nagging injuries-he broke his toe before last season-and he's coming off a quality prep period. Plus, that cloud hanging over his head has faded.

Reichelt was recently questioned by authorities investigating a blood doping ring in sports. Reichelt denied wrongdoing in the case known as Operation Aderlass. It was reported that Reichelt was questioned over contacting cross-country ski coach Gerald Heigl about training programs.

Heigl has been implicated by cross-country skier Johannes Duerr, whose interview with German broadcaster ARD in January fueled the investigation.

In an Instagram post on Oct 16, Reichelt wrote "the false allegations are officially off the table today".

Reichelt said last week in an interview at the team hotel that authorities combed through his phone records for nearly five months before he was cleared.

It was a weight off his shoulders.

"I can focus," said Reichelt, who finished 1.93 seconds behind Cochran-Siegle's top time on Wednesday. "Sometimes you get the questions and then you're thinking about that. It's a little bit always in your head. But it's away, and it's much better."

Missing from the team this season is Marcel Hirscher, who retired after winning eight straight World Cup overall titles.

Austrian Alpine Ski Olympic and World Champion Marcel Hirscher announces his retirement during a news conference in Salzburg, Austria Sep 4, 2019. [Photo/Agencies]

No Hirscher means more media coverage for the rest of the team.

"Marcel was taking a lot of pressure off our team," Reichelt said. "But I think the team is good enough to work with the pressure and it's good for our team that we also have more visibility now."

These younger racers keep getting faster and making it harder to keep up. Case in point: Reichelt finished 1.94 seconds behind downhill winner Thomas Dressen of Germany in Lake Louise, Alberta, last weekend, and 1.61 seconds slower than super-G winner and teammate Matthias Mayer.

"It's still fun," Reichelt said. "This summer was pretty good for me. Hopefully that helps me so that I can compete against the young guys."

Since making his World Cup debut in 2001, Reichelt has been on the podium 44 times, including 13 wins. The one prize that's eluded him, though, is an Olympic medal. His best finish was 10th at the 2006 Turin Games.

Things remaining on his World Cup wish list include: A downhill victory at Beaver Creek and a win in Val Gardena, Italy.

Reichelt will get another shot at Val Gardena later this month. Over the weekend, he finished fourth at Beaver Creek, with Switzerland's Beat Feuz first and Johan Clarey of France and Vincent Kriechmayr of Austria tying for second.

"It's bad that I didn't reach the podium here, because maybe it's the last time here," said Reichelt, who was 0.02 seconds away from a podium position.

As for his long-term plans, that's easy-slow down and enjoy family life. He and his wife welcomed a son in April.

"When you come home, skiing is not the important thing," Reichelt said. "It's only family and that's very nice."

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