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A tough act to follow - St Moritz prepares for 2003

Two years and counting...

(Keystone)

The Austrian resort of St Anton is recovering from two weeks of hosting the world skiing championships, but preparations are already well under way in Switzerland for the 2003 event.

Nearly 100 members of the St Moritz organising committee have returned from the St Anton championships with notepads full of lessons learned during the fortnight in Austria.

Many of those who attended the St Anton championships might think that the Swiss resort will have a difficult time following on from such a generally successful tournament. A record 260,000 spectators were in St Anton during the two weeks of sport, with top class performances and vigorous après-ski events keeping the crowds happy.

But Alexander Schmidt of the St Moritz organising team insists that the aim is to produce an event that is different, rather than better, than that put on by his Austrian counterparts.

"We definitely want a more Swiss atmosphere in St Moritz," he told swissinfo. "The Swiss après-ski, for example, is not so focused on beer as the Austrian version. In Switzerland it's more to do with sitting and having a drink in small huts, rather than having big parties on the streets."

That doesn't mean to say, though, that Schmidt is hoping for a quiet two weeks in St Moritz.

"No, not at all," he laughs. "What I'd like is to see a big international event being used as a platform for Swiss culture - an event where you actually know that you're in Switzerland."

Aside from digs at the slightly bland mixture of beer and pop music that filled the streets of St Anton this month, the organisers of the St Moritz tournament also noted a number of more serious issues that they hope to address before 2003.

The study team were not overly impressed by the wide layout of the finish area in St Anton, arguing that the large VIP area in the centre of the zone often dampened the atmosphere.

"In St Anton the crowd left out on the left of the finish area couldn't see what was happening when races finished on the right hand side, and vice versa," said Schmidt. "In St Moritz we will have a single finish line and a closer area with an atmosphere more like a stadium, where everyone will have a good view."

It's also hoped that St Moritz will be able to use its much greater size to ensure that visitors can stay in the town itself. The streets of St Anton tended to empty later in the evenings with many of the resort's hotels block-booked by national teams, sponsors and the media.

The only thing the organisers can't promise is an improvement in the fortunes of the Swiss ski team, who returned from St Anton with just three medals, having taken the dreaded fourth place on no less than four occasions.

"We certainly hope the Swiss team can improve on their medal tally," Schmidt said with a smile. "But it's not something we can really influence. That's the duty of the athletes, the trainers and the ski association. But we can at least provide an excellent platform for them to win some medals on."

by Mark Ledsom


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