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Hirscher and Matt make history for Austria

Austria's Marcel Hirscher competes during the first run of the men's slalom of the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup in Levi, Finnish Lapland, Novemb
Austria's Marcel Hirscher competes during the first run of the men's slalom of the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup in Levi, Finnish Lapland, Novemb

By Patrick Lang

LEVI, Finland (Reuters) - Marcel Hirscher stole the limelight once again when he gave Austria their 100th slalom World Cup victory on Sunday, but his team mate Mario Matt also made history on the Finnish slopes.

At 34 years and seven months, Matt, who won the first of his two world titles nearly 13 years ago, became the oldest skier on the podium of a World Cup slalom and boosted his Olympic chances for Sochi.

In spite of his two gold medals at the world championships in 2011 and 2007, Matt has taken part in only one Winter Games, in Turin in 2006 when he failed to complete his slalom.

In 2002 and 2010, the Austrian was forced out of Olympic action by injuries.

"Of course in Austria, many skiers have a chance to be in the team but it would be fantastic to earn a new Olympic cap," said Matt after his second place in the opening slalom of the World Cup season, 0.22 seconds behind Hirscher.

The twice World Cup winner kicked off the season with his first victory on a slope that has never suited him in the past.

With 10 slalom podiums in succession, Hirscher joined Swede Ingemar Stenmark as the most consistent specialist in history.

Matt, far more erratic because of countless injuries, cited Hirscher as one of the reasons why he carried on racing after getting a bronze medal at the last world championships in Schladming.

"I contemplated quitting but the passion was still there and it's great to ski alongside young skiers like Marcel," he said.

"Also there is not much else to do in the winter and it's a perfect combination for me to ski in the winter and look after my horses in the summer," added Matt, who runs a stud farm in his home village near St Anton.

Hirscher, 24, paid homage to his older team mate, saying: "It's already hard enough to be at the top for two, three or four seasons but Mario has been there for 15 years.

"Mario remains a remarkable example in terms of passion and a healthy way of life."

When Matt does retire, the family name may crop up again on scoreboards as his brother Michael, 20, made his World Cup debut in Levi, failing to qualify for the second leg.

"It was very special to see my brother at the start. Given our age difference, I never thought it would happen," the older Matt said.

(Editing by Clare Fallon)

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