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Can Swiss skiers gatecrash the Austrian party?

Thousands of spectators gathered for the St Anton's opening ceremony

(Keystone)

With Alpine yodellers and rocking Amadeuses, the opening ceremony of the St Anton skiing World Championships was strongly focused on Austrian tradition.

But it will be the more recent tradition of Austrian domination on the world's pistes that the rest of the national squads will be more concerned with over the course of the next two weeks. The Swiss skiing federation are among those hoping to make a considerable impression here, having set their sights on at least six medals.

The bid for medal glory begins with Monday's opening race - the women's super-G. Corinne Rey-Bellet and Sylviane Berthod are the two Swiss competitors involved with the former among the strong medal chances.

Currently joint seventh in the super-G World Cup standings, Rey-Bellet's reputation in St Anton stems from a remarkable day two seasons ago when she won a super-G and a downhill race within five hours of each other. Speaking to swissinfo ahead of her latest challenge, the 28-year-old from canton Valais admitted that St Anton still gave her a buzz.

"I feel good here," she said. "The atmosphere is nice and I like being here. To win two races in one day was a fabulous achievement.

"I do think back on that day," she smiled. "But I think tomorrow will be a whole new race. I just have to concentrate on being as fast as possible."

Despite the venue and the occasion, Rey-Bellet insisted that she would be trying to treat the race as a normal competition.

"I think it's important to prepare just like for any other race," she smiled. "If I was to change anything the pressure would become even greater."

While the Austrians would love to match their achievements from the last world championships when the women took all three podium places in the super-G, France's Régine Cavagnoud comes into Monday's race as the clear favourite.

Cavagnoud has finished on the podium at all five World Cup races in the discipline this season, winning on the last three occasions.

The Swiss team as a whole will also be able to take cheer from this season's World Cup performances as the championships get underway. While Michael von Grünigen and Sonja Nef have been a revelation in the giant slalom discipline, there have also been signs of increasing confidence among the rest of the team.

Perhaps most significant could be the way several Swiss skiers appear to be peaking just in time for St Anton. This weekend saw a hat-trick of podium spots for the country's athletes, with Nef, Franco Cavegn and Didier Cuche all snatching third-place finishes in the last three days.

swissinfo with agencies

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