A question of faith
The Swiss men's ski team need to rediscover their self-belief if they're to succeed at the Winter Olympics, says head coach Dieter Bartsch.
After watching another awesome Austrian display during the World Cup weekend in St Moritz, Bartsch insisted that his team would have to be more confident if they wanted to challenge their neighbours and fierce rivals on the slopes above Salt Lake City.
"We are definitely in better shape than we were last year," Bartsch told swissinfo, "but we're still waiting and waiting for the results to back that up. I'm sure the racers are ready for the Olympics, but they have to relax a little more and believe more in themselves."
Bartsch demonstrated his own faith in the Swiss team's future during the St Moritz weekend, when he finally agreed to renew his contract as head coach. An Austrian himself, Bartsch can now concentrate on the unenviable task of somehow frustrating his own countrymen.
Austria versus the world
This year's Olympic men's skiing programme is likely to involve a battle between the Austrians and the rest of the world - a scenario that has become familiar ever since the last Winter Games in Nagano.
This season in particular the Swiss men's team have struggled to keep pace with their Austrian counterparts, with Didier Cuche's giant slalom win in Adelboden marking Switzerland's only World Cup victory on the current World Cup tour.
With a further six podium places in two of his three World Cup disciplines, including Sunday's second place finish in St Moritz, Cuche has certainly been the Swiss team's saving grace this season.
Having won a super-G silver medal at the Nagano Olympics, the former butcher from Neuchatel is now set to be the Swiss team's main medal hope in Salt Lake City.
"Cuche has the ability to win three Olympic medals this month, but of course he could also come back empty-handed," warns Bartsch. "It's great though to be heading to Salt Lake with someone who can make the podium in three disciplines. He has no problem dealing with the pressure and expectations, but the schedule requirements are likely to give him some hassle."
"I've never skied as well as I'm skiing right now, and that's giving me plenty of confidence for the Olympics" Cuche told swissinfo after Sunday's race. "It's nice to know that I could be bringing a medal back for the Swiss people but right now I'm just concentrating on winning a medal for myself."
Switzerland's Michael von Grünigen was the only other member of the Swiss men's team to win a medal in Nagano, picking up bronze in the Olympic giant slalom. As the reigning giant slalom world champion, von Grünigen started this season as one of the favourites for gold in Salt Lake, but a series of injuries have since hampered his preparations.
Out of action for a month after injuring his elbow in Adelboden, the 32-year-old skier only returned to World Cup competition on Sunday, finishing 14th in the St Moritz giant slalom.
"My elbow's not too bad now, it's more a matter of what's in my head and being able to take risks again," von Grünigen told swissinfo afterwards. "The Olympic gold medal is the only thing left for me to win. That's going to be difficult now, but I'm going to try."
One aspect of Olympic competition which should help the Swiss, and indeed the rest of the non-Austrian world, is the selection rule which allows each country a maximum of four athletes in each of the alpine disciplines.
"It's lucky for us that we will only have four Austrians to worry about in each of the Olympic races," Swiss downhiller Franco Cavegn mused on Saturday after seeing Switzerland's arch-rivals take seven of the top eight places in the St Moritz downhill.
by Mark Ledsom
Swiss Olympic alpine skiing squad
Men: Paul Accola, Franco Cavegn, Didier Cuche, Didier Défago, Tobias Grünenfelder, Ambrosi Hoffmann, Urs Imboden, Bruno Kernen, Michael von Grünigen, Rolf von Weissenfluh
Women: Fränzi Aufdenblatten, Sylviane Berthod, Catherine Borghi, Corina Grünenfelder, Lilian Kummer, Sonja Nef, Marlies Oester, Corinne Rey-Bellet
February 10, men's downhill
February 11, women's downhill
February 13, men's combined
February 14, women's combined
February 16, men's super-G
February 17, women's super-G
February 20, women's slalom
February 21, men's giant slalom
February 22, women's giant slalom
February 23, men's slalom
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