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Ave Maria: Farewell to the flying, five-discipline phenomenon


Maria Hoefl-Riesch in the Are World Cup. GEPA/Harald Steiner

Maria Hoefl-Riesch in the 2014 Are World Cup GS. GEPA/Harald Steiner

Three Olympic gold medals, two more at the World Championships, and six crystal globes: that’s a career in anyone’s language. But as with so much about Maria Hoefl-Riesch, the great German all-rounder who announced her retirement last month at the age of 29, it tells only half the story.

For the rest, you need the snow leopard.

Through a professional career spanning 13 years and 356 World Cup races — 81 podiums, 27 wins, since you asked — writers had plenty of time to pin down Hoefl-Riesch’s character, as they gleefully had with most of her rivals. That they singularly failed tells much about this familiar yet elusive figure, who, legend has it, could have excelled in a number of other sports had she wished, and whose intimidating shadow often seemed to cast even farther over her rivals than her striking, all-but-six-foot frame did across the snow.

With five distinct disciplines and three elite strands of competition, identifying the best alpine racers of all time through statistics is a dizzying, somewhat futile exercise. But amidst the sea of conflicting numbers, the elegant symmetry of Maria’s career record stands out a mile. Eleven World Cup wins and one crystal globe in the downhill, nine and two in the polar opposite event, the slalom: just how, in the modern era of specialization, could that be possible?

This is only a preview. Read the entirety of ‘Ave Maria’ in Issue 11 of the digital magazine here.

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