Monday, January 15, 2018

Why is Marcel Hirscher so dominant?

Marcel Hirscher has been the number one skier on the World Cup for over 7 years. He has 53 overall victories and has won the last 5 slalom races, and also has 3 GS wins this season. He is skiing with total relaxation,  fluidity and confidence. The mistakes and recoveries he makes, he takes in stride, as if they were just minor interruptions.  He skis the most difficult turns with short arcs that wrap around the pole and releases with amazing energy, rarely losing ground. Below are a series of photos demonstrating how Hirscher masters a slalom arc. He does this while all his rivals are at a loss, splitting their feet, skidding low and traveling more distance. 

The frames are from the Wengen Slalom 2018 on the same turn. This is a small sample of what is happening in 95% of the arcs on the course. 
Although these frames may look the same,  they demonstrate the basic characteristics of Hirscher's technique and what that technique allows him to do. Look closely at the position of his ski tips, his inside ski boot and his leg angles, to recognize the changes he makes to create a decreasing radius turn, that is better than any other racers.
 The frame above, shows some slight inclination as he prepares to block. Notice the groove or rut from the 29 previous skiers, it is about 1 foot below his right ski. He is inside and closer to the gate than the others, as he is on most arcs in this race. Because this is relatively flatter terrain he can use some slight inclination while still tipping his feet and lower body, but he stays well within his counter-balanced state.

Frame above: Just before the block of the pole he tips his feet and legs and begins to shorten the arc.

Frame above: He has made contact with the pole or gate, he has increased the tipping action, which loads the outside ski, bends it while reducing pressure on the inside ski.

 Frame above: notice how the pressure on the outside or stance ski has moved from the tip of the ski to under the foot. You can see this by where the snow comes off the ski. The slalom gate is now on the snow, yet the arc is still tightening.

Frame above: Standing totally on the outside ski, Hirscher moves to release for the next turn.

What can we take away from this skiing Hirscher shows and how is it different from his competitors?

A list of things Hirscher does better than the rest, might be a place to start.

  1. He never stops tipping his skis to a greater angle through the arc. He never stiffens his outside leg or pushes with extension down on the ski.
  2. He's more compact, keeping his legs and feet closer together and his inside foot more pulled back then the rest.
  3. He starts every turn further forward on his skis, his hips move into the falline ahead of his boots. This is done with his amazing ability to pull his feet back under his hips at the release, and in the transition. His inside foot management is second to none.
  4. This all adds up to a shorter radius, shorter line, a slicing arc, a ski that moves forward in the arc relative to his CG,  rather than a breaking, dragging, and grinding.
  5. Hirscher rarely gets his feet so wide that he has to make a big move to the new outside ski.

Nothing that Hirscher is doing is revolutionary, but adding it all up and performing this way separates Hirscher from the rest of the field.

                     Now for a photographic comparison with Hirscher's main rivals.

Kristofferson above, shows a wider stance and his outside ski is a foot, to almost 2 feet further below the pole than Hirscher. This results in a wider line and a longer path,  with less outside ski pressure. Less pressure and less bend, means less rebound from the ski: therefore a slower transition and rounder longer line. Also, he's split his weight between both skis, and shows more inclination, limiting his ability to increase angles.  Hirscher on the other hand, this season, has become almost Gross like, keeping the inside boot very close, to the outside boot. Although Hirscher may at times use inclination above the slalom pole, he brings his upper body back over his outside ski, when the ski edge needs to hold and increase tipping angles.

Myhrer above: shows very similar movements and positions as Kristofferson. Both are less compact than Hirscher, have more body lean and extension. Both travel a wider line than Hirscher, they are both in the rut that Hirscher was able to stay above. Hirscher in almost every situation brings his upper body closer to and over the outside ski then other racers. Is this a function of body proportions and body length? To some degree sure, it's more difficult to control counter-balance and the core with a longer torso. However in other situations the longer limbs offer more leverage, if you can hold the forces.

All of these points are what may seem to many as minor issues, however they add up. The results are obvious Hirscher is quicker, makes a tighter arc, and has more time to set up for the next arc, even though he's traveling at a faster speed, .93 of a second faster, to be exact in this race.

Although Hirscher has won the last 6 overall World Cup titles, as well as numerous individual discipline Globes, this is the first year in 4 that his boot set up or alignment has been this good. The boots being almost perfect, make everything he does that much easier for him.