Hirscher, Fenninger aim for World Cup double
LENZERHEIDE, Switzerland -- After Austria easily topped the Alpine skiing medals table at the Sochi Olympics, Marcel Hirscher and Anna Fenninger aim to put the "Wunderteam" back on top of the World Cup standings.
Not since 2002 have the Austrians held both the men's and women's overall titles, but Hirscher and Fenninger can achieve just that at the World Cup Finals this week. Both face head-to-head contests -- with Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway and Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany -- in tight races for the giant crystal globe trophies.
If Hirscher and Fenninger can win the titles, they will match the achievement of Austrian duo Stephan Eberharter and Michaela Dorfmeister 12 years ago. The last time one nation swept the overall titles was Bode Miller and Lindsey Vonn for the United States in 2008.
"Anna will win the overall title," said Hirscher, the two-time defending overall champion.
The men's side may be tougher.
Svindal is looking for a third overall title to add to his 2007 and `09 victories, though even he thinks Hirscher is the favorite.
"But I'll do my best," the easy-going Norwegian said.
Svindal earned his overall titles by edging Benjamin Raich by a combined 15 points -- a tiny margin when race wins are worth 100 and the champion typically totals about 1,300 points.
Hirscher starts the final four-race stretch with a four-point lead over Svindal, 1,050 to 1,046.
The 25-year-old Austrian should make a rare super-G start on Thursday, but he skips the downhill races. That will give a boost to Svindal, who already has the season-long discipline title.
"I feel pretty good. I have been in this situation before," Svindal said Tuesday. "Instead of looking at it in a negative way, I'm excited that I'm in this position. It means I had a good winter."
Yet Svindal, a four-race winner this season, has seen his results dip a little since being affected by allergies at the Olympics.
"When that keeps happening it's not a coincidence," he said. "It means that I'm not as fast as I was at the beginning of the winter."
Hirscher, who took Olympic silver in slalom, has also had several fourth- and fifth-places podium finishes recently. He lost the slalom points lead to Felix Neureuther of Germany, and can be overtaken by Ted Ligety of the United States in giant slalom on Saturday.
With 10 World Cup trophies awarded this week, Hirscher and Fenninger can take a majority home to their native region -- adding to their combined three Olympic medals of Austria's nine.
"It's incredible (the region of) Tennengau can win seven crystal globes this year," said Hirscher, who is from Annaberg, 40 kilometers from Fenninger's village of Adnet.
The 24-year-old Fenninger, the Olympic super-G champion and GS silver medalist, can clinch her first overall title without winning a discipline title, and without racing slalom.
"It's very exciting this week," said Fenninger, who won back-to-back GS races last week in Are, Sweden, to heap pressure on 2011 champion Hoefl-Riesch. "I try my best and then we will see."
Hoefl-Riesch leads by 29 points and is battle-tested in Lenzerheide, where three years ago she took three-time defending champion Vonn's title by only three points.
"It's a little bit of a disadvantage in the case that Fenninger is skiing so great here, but it should be no problem," Germany team director Wolfgang Maier said.
The 29-year-old Hoefl-Riesch skipped training because of a cold Tuesday, and also avoided further questions about plans to end her racing career.
Hoefl-Riesch can take one trophy on Wednesday because she has an 80-point lead over Fenninger for the downhill title. Fenninger is 71 points behind super-G leader Lara Gut of Switzerland, and 14 behind Jessica Lindell-Vikarby of Sweden in the deciding GS, which ends the season Sunday.
Olympic slalom champion Mikaela Shiffrin has already won her second straight World Cup discipline title before the last race Saturday. Svindal has clinched the downhill and super-G titles, and 19-year-old Norwegian teammate Henrik Kristoffersen can still add the World Cup slalom title to his Olympic bronze medal.
AP Sports Writer Eric Willemsen in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, contributed to this report.
Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press
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