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Alpine skiing-Olympic champion Hoefl-Riesch, 29, retires

By Karolos Grohmann

(Reuters) - Olympic combined champion Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany ended her Alpine skiing career on Thursday, quitting a month after adding a third gold medal to her collection.

The four-times Olympic medalist told reporters in Munich that she initially thought of skiing for one more season after winning gold and silver at the Sochi Winter Games last month.

"The first gut feeling after the Olympics and the gold medal was to retire on that success," said the versatile 29-year-old at a ceremony where she received the World Cup downhill trophy.

"I still wanted to think about it calmly because I felt the German skiing federation had a great desire for me to add one more season.

"In the end I decided to end my career now," said Hoefl-Riesch who also won two golds at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

The skier, born in the heart of the Bavarian Alps in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, was one of a handful of athletes to live up to expectation in Sochi as Germany picked up just over half of their 30 predicted medals.

Hoefl-Riesch also led the overall World Cup standings this season before crashing during a race in Switzerland on March 12.

"I did everything for that gold in Sochi and it was a huge liberation," said Hoefl-Riesch who also picked up the silver medal in the Super-G in Russia and was the 2011 World Cup champion.

The German, who recorded 27 victories and 81 podium finishes on the World Cup circuit, landed the slalom title in 2009 and the combined crown in 2013.

Hoefl-Riesch was a leading rival of American Lindsey Vonn who missed the Sochi Olympics through injury.

"It would have been nice to go up against her again but that did not play any role in my decision," said the German.

"You should stop when it is the most beautiful and this was the most beautiful."

Germany's Olympic Committee chief Alfons Hoermann said Hoefl-Riesch left her mark on the sport.

"It is a tough issue but I have full respect for her decision," Hoermann told reporters. "An athlete is leaving who has put her imprint on the sport of Alpine skiing in the past 10 years."

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann, editing by Tony Jimenez)

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