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Lucas Braathen, top slalom skier, retires just before season starts

Lucas Braathen

ANDORRA LA VELLA, ANDORRA - MARCH 19: Lucas Braathen of Norway celebrating the Overall Slalom victory with his Crystal Glove during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Finals - Men’s Slalom on March 19, 2023 in Soldeu near Andorra la Vella, France. (Photo by Joan Cros Garcia - Corbis/Getty Images)

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Lucas Braathen, the reigning World Cup slalom season champion, announced his retirement at age 23 in a press conference on Friday, two days before the first men’s race of the season.

“I’m done,” he said in a tearful address. “I am a person that have always followed my own dreams and what makes me the happiest. ... For the first time in at least half a year, I’m happy after making this decision. For the first time in years I feel free, and everyone that knows me, they know that if it’s something that leads me to happiness, it’s my freedom.”

Norwegian media reported that Braathen said that he decided four weeks ago to end his career and that he has a long-standing conflict with the federation over athlete marketing rights, which includes a recent photo shoot with a brand that was unauthorized.

Norwegian Alpine team director Claus Johan Ryste said in a press release that he was surprised to learn of Braathen’s retirement shortly before the press conference. He felt recent talks with Braathen and his father were fair and wants to help Braathen moving forward.

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The press conference was held in Soelden, Austria, site of season-opening women’s and men’s giant slaloms on Saturday and Sunday.

Three years ago, Braathen won the season opener, becoming the youngest man to win a World Cup race in six years and the first male winner born in the 2000s. The Alpine world learned about the long-haired Norwegian with a Brazilian mother who grew up playing soccer.

After failing to finish his two 2022 Olympic races, Braathen won three times last season and was the top slalom skier over the course of the World Cup season.

He underwent appendix surgery during the season on Jan. 31 and returned for the world championships slalom on Feb. 19, finishing seventh.

Braathen called his life up to this point a “dream.”

“I’m going to go on my little journey on my own now to try to find out what my next journey is,” he said.