- Associated Press - Monday, February 3, 2014

VIENNA (AP) - With injured Hannes Reichelt ruled out for the Olympics, Austria’s main medal hopes for men’s Alpine skiing in Sochi are with Marcel Hirscher - once again.

At last year’s home world championships, the Austrian men failed to win any medal in the first week’s speed events before Hirscher saved the ski-mad nation’s honors by earning two golds and a silver in the technical disciplines.

A similar weight could be resting on Hirscher’s shoulders in Sochi, where the former “Wunderteam” is eager to bounce back from becoming a flat-out flop at the Games four years ago.

The country with nearly twice as many Olympic Alpine medals as any other picked up only four in Vancouver - and zero by their men for the first time at an Olympics they entered.

“What happened four years ago is no issue anymore,” men’s head coach Mathias Berthold told The Associated Press. “Everybody is optimistic we’ll get to the podium this time. The boys live from race to race.”

Berthold is aware that, yet again, expectations from Austrian fans and media will be high.

“In Austria, people sometimes can’t accept that other nations can be better at times,” said Berthold, who coached the German women when Maria Hoefl-Riesch and Viktoria Rebensburg earned them three golds in Vancouver.

Two-time overall World Cup champion Hirscher is confident he can handle the pressure again.

“A ski racer is like a child - you may fall down sometimes but you always have to get up again,” said Hirscher, who was fourth in GS and fifth in slalom four years ago.

Hirscher leads this season’s World Cup standings in both disciplines. It’s mainly in the speed events Austria has been struggling for years now.

Former world downhill champion Michael Walchhofer, who won Olympic silver in 2006, ended his career three years ago, leaving a gap the Austrians haven’t been able to fill properly.

“Since Walchhofer retired, we haven’t had a leader within the speed team like he was,” Berthold said.

Being a GS specialist, Reichelt surprisingly became the only Austrian to win downhill races in the last two World Cup seasons.

However, two days after beating Aksel Lund Svindal and Bode Miller to win the classic Hahnenkamm downhill in Kitzbuehel, Reichelt needed surgery on persistent back problems and had to end his season prematurely.

“(Reichelt‘s) victory has been a relief to the Austrian team,” said Max Franz, who placed third in the Hahnenhamm super-G Sunday. “Finally we have a win again in a speed event though not by a guy from the speed team. We’ll still have to work on that.”

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