VIENNA: Alpine skiing legend Marcel Hirscher is expected to announce his retirement on Wednesday, ending an illustrious career that saw him win a record eighth consecutive World Cup this year.
The 30-year-old Austrian has spoken before about calling it quits -- as early as 2014, in fact -- but lately speculation that he would stop has intensified despite his endless winning streak.
The multiple world and Olympic champion has called a press conference for Wednesday, titled "Retrospectives, insights and perspectives" after saying earlier in the year he would announce a decision on his future after the summer.
"An era that was phenomenal and unique, as much as captivating and amazing ends," the tabloid newspaper Kronen's sports editor wrote in a commentary on Saturday.
"Thank you Marcel!" said the paper on its front-page in a tribute typical of other newspapers headlines anticipating the retirement of one of the ski-mad country's favourite sporting sons.
Hirscher already has two more overall World Cup titles than the second most successful skier in history, another Austrian Annemarie Moser-Proell, who won six large globes.
She is followed by Marc Girardelli of Luxembourg with five, and American Lindsey Vonn and Austrian Hermann Maier both with four.
Earlier this year, Vonn retired at age 34 as did Norwegian skiing legend and her close friend, Aksel Lund Svindal, 36.
- 'Role model for everyone' -
At a press conference in March, fresh from winning his eighth crystal globe, 12 years after his first World Cup race, Hirscher said he was noticing his age, feeling "very, very tired" at the season's end.
The slalom specialist has also said in the past that he wants to spend more time with his family. He married and had a son last year.
He had said he would take the summer to make a decision. A press conference for early August was called off.
"Of course this is a very, very difficult decision for Marcel. No matter what he decides, I know professional skiing is his life, his passion," Hans Pum, former sports director of the Austrian Ski Federation (OeSV), told AFP.
"He is simply a role model for everyone. He really lived the sport, 24 hours a day, with an exceptional consistency and attitude, and that is of course very intense."
Hirscher has also secured seven world championship gold medals, as well as two gold medals at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, eclipsing his previous best, a slalom silver from Sochi four years earlier.
"He didn't leave anything to coincidence. He did everything with full committment," said Pum, who left the federation this year.
One of the records that escapes Hirscher, however, is the one for the total number of World Cup victories: There, Hirscher's 67 falls short of the 86 won by Sweden's Ingemar Stenmark.
Born in Annaberg-Lungoetz, Hirscher started to ski at the age of two, taught by his father, who has been by his side and coached him throughout his career.
His family spent summer seasons in an Alpine hut in the mountains around the city of Salzburg, according to a media interview with his father.