Austrian win in Wengen, but Maier must settle for second

As many expected, it was glory for Austria at Saturday's World Cup downhill in Wengen. But the hot favourite, World Cup overall leader, Hermann Maier, had to settle for second. He was beaten by his compatriot, Josef Strobl (pictured).

This content was published on January 15, 2000 minutes

As many expected, it was glory for Austria at today's World Cup downhill in Wengen, with Austrians occupying five of the top seven places.

But the hot favourite before the race, World Cup overall leader, Hermann Maier, had to settle for second in the 70th running of the world-famous Lauberhorn race.

The winner turned out to be Maier's compatriot, Josef Strobl (pictured), who completed the classic course in the shadow of the Eiger in a time of two minutes 29.17 seconds - 0.16 of a second quicker than the Herminator.

Strobl, known affectionately on the circuit as Pepi, was understandably overjoyed with his victory: "This win means so much to me, not just because I beat Hermann Maier, but because it comes after a long period of disappointments," he said.

Maier, who extended his lead in the World Cup standings to over 450 points, was also pleased, though he admitted he could have gone a little faster.

"I slowed on certain risky passages, because my goal was to make sure I crossed the finish line," Maier said, adding that Strobl's win would "make the World Cup more interesting because it shows that the serial winner can be beaten".

The two Austrians were far faster than anyone else in the field - third-placed Ed Podivinsky of Canada was more than a second further back - not surprising considering this is the longest course on the World Cup circuit.

And on a day when a Swiss woman tasted downhill success elsewhere (see sports page), two Swiss men put in creditable performances in Wengen.

Didier Cuche and Bruno Kernen tied for eighth place. For Kernen, the 1997 World Champion, it represented proof that his rehabilitation after last year's knee operation is back on track.

Cuche, registering his best finish of the season, jumped to 11th on the World Cup rankings. He's now the highest-placed Swiss.

Before the race, Cuche had complained that the course designers had made the Lauberhorn too safe, virtually turning it into a super-G instead of a white-knuckle downhill.

Nevertheless, the Lauberhorn did show its teeth on more than one occasion. The Swiss hopeful, Silvano Beltrametti, suffered a dreadful crash on the leap immediately before the finish. Thankfully, he did not appear to be seriously hurt.

There are high hopes of a Swiss win in Sunday's slalom in Wengen, not least because the only Swiss victories in this year's men's World Cup have been provided by Didier Plaschy in this most technical of events.

Plaschy's decision to abandon the giant slalom and concentrate all his efforts on the slalom seem to be paying dividends. Alongside Plaschy will be the veteran Michael von Grünigen, who finished second in last year's Wengen slalom.

But they are by no means guaranteed a podium finish. Unlike the downhill, the race is wide open - there have been three different winners in the four slaloms this season. Apart from Plaschy, the favourites include the Austrians, Thomas Stangasinger and Benni Raich, Kjetil-Andre Aamodt and Finn-Christian Jagge of Norway, and the Slovene, Matjaz Vrhovnik.

The course designers have lengthened the course by some 190 metres, meaning the slalom, the most technical Alpine event, will be almost as challenging as the downhill.

By Roy Probert

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