Austrian ski great Hirscher to make comeback under Dutch flag

Austrian ski king Marcel Hirscher to make a comeback under the Dutch flag (JAVIER SORIANO)
Austrian ski king Marcel Hirscher to make a comeback under the Dutch flag (JAVIER SORIANO)

Austria's two-time Olympic ski champion Marcel Hirscher announced on Wednesday that he was coming out of retirement to compete under the flag of the Netherlands.

The Netherlands may not be known as a go-to ski destination -- the country's highest mountain measures just 322 metres (1,056 feet) above sea level.

But Hirscher, 35, plans to return to the World Cup circuit next season as a Dutch competitor for the first time since his retirement in 2019.

"For me it's just a really cool chance to live out my passion and get the best out of skiing once again," the eight-time overall World Cup champion said in a video on Instagram.

"The joy of skiing has never gone away," he said, adding he chose to compete for the Netherlands so as not "to be in the way" and take resources, such as trainers, and training and race spots, from young Austrian skiers.

His decision to switch nationality was greeted with a certain reluctance by the Austrian ski authorities.

Hirscher -- the son of an Austrian father and Dutch mother -- is one of the greats of the sport and his collection of eight consecutive overall World Cup crystal globes from 2012 to 2019 remains a record.

"Over the past few days we have learned that Marcel Hirscher plans to return to the international circuit," Austrian ski chief Christian Scherer noted in a statement.

"Of course we regret enormously his decision to ask for a change of nationality to join the Dutch Ski Federation but we have finally given it our support... out of respect to him," Scherer added.

The Dutch, on the other hand, are thrilled at the prospect of Hirscher competing in their colours.

"The fact that Marcel Hirscher plans to work for the Netherlands and to ski for the NSkiV is an absolute honour," said Dutch ski federation general director Fritz Avis.

"Marcel is a global icon and an inspiration for all skiers and winter sports enthusiasts in the Netherlands," he continued.

"We hope that this will stimulate interest and that enthusiasm for winter sports will get a boost in our already winter sports crazy country."

Hirscher retired with 67 World Cup wins, claimed Olympic gold in slalom and combined at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games, and has seven world titles to his name.

Since retirement Hirscher, who has rock star status in ski-crazy Austria, set up his own ski company.