February 18, 2018 / 8:32 AM / a year ago

Olympics-Alpine skiing-Pinturault embraces 'luck' of racing in Hirscher era

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Some skiers would count themselves cursed to race in the era of Marcel Hirscher, but Alexis Pinturault begs to differ.

After winning his second medal of the Pyeongchang Games on Sunday, both in races won by the invincible-looking Hirscher, the Frenchman said he considered himself lucky to compete against and learn from his Austrian rival.

"No, I'd say it's my great good fortune... It's something really special for me to race against Marcel, he is the greatest in Alpine skiing," Pinturault said after taking bronze in the giant slalom behind Hirscher and Henrik Kristoffersen of Norway.

"I'm thankful about competing against him, even if I'm more (often) second than first."

It was Pinturault's second consecutive Olympic bronze in giant slalom, and his third medal overall after claiming silver in the men's combined last week.

The Frenchman, racing next to last, began with an advantage of 0.68 seconds over Kristoffersen from the first run but made mistakes as he threw caution to the wind, at one point drawing gasps from the crowd as his left ski flailed high in the air and he struggled to regain his balance.

He lost out on the silver by four-hundredths of a second -- a slim margin compared to Hirscher's comfortable 1.27 seconds over Kristoffersen.

"I had no margin of manoeuvre today," said Pinturault, whose two medals in Pyeongchang have justified his decision to wind down in Japan on the eve of the Games to regroup after a fairly modest season.

"Of course, I made some mistakes by attacking. Yes, I lost the four-hundredths somewhere but I also caught up lots of time by attacking like that to have the chance of a medal."

The 26-year-old joined Franck Piccard and Guy Perillat, each with two downhill medals, as the only Frenchmen with multiple Olympic medals in a single men's Alpine skiing event.

"It was really tight, a great fight with Henrik and of course with all the others. Marcel was a step in front," he said of six-times overall World Cup-winner Hirscher, who trails only Ingemar Stenmark in all-time race wins.

"Because of him we are learning a lot and we always try to push higher and higher... to catch him," he said.

"He is the greatest ever. You just have to see his career. He beat everybody -- now there is only Stenmark, but he could beat Stenmark as well. It just depends how long he wants to go on."

Swedish great Stenmark retired with 86 wins, Hirscher has 55. (Reporting by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by John O'Brien)

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