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Downhillers victorious after taxing week

Swiss skier Didier Défago blasts off a roller on his way to winning the downhill in Kitzbühel

(Keystone)

A battle between the two Didiers and a second straight victory from Dominique Gisin capped a stellar weekend for Switzerland on the World Cup downhill circuit.

Didier Défago finished in first place at the classic Streif course at Kitzbühel on Saturday afternoon with a time of 1:56.09 but his teammate, Daniel Albrecht, remains in a coma after crashing out in training two days earlier.

Didier Cuche, the reigning World Cup downhill champion, came fourth, a half second behind. Two Austrians – Michael Walchhofer and Klaus Kroell – finished second and third with times of 1:56.26 and 1:56.38.

Saturday's result was Défago's third World Cup victory. The 31 year old won last week at Lauberhorn in the Swiss resort of Wengen.

"This is a whole new situation for me," Défago said, who'd never had a downhill podium finish until last week. "It's every skier's dream to win in Kitzbühel."

On the women's side, Switzerland's Gisin beat the race's favourites at the Olympia delle Tofane piste at Cortina, Italy on Saturday morning with a time of 1:16.98.

Teammate Nadia Styger tied for seventh place, 0.43 seconds behind.

Lindsey Vonn of the United States finished 0.15 seconds behind and Sweden's Anja Pärson, who shared the top spot on the podium with Gisin last week in Zauchensee, Austria, finished third, 0.17 seconds back.

"Fast skis"

"I thought a top-ten result would have been possible but I had very fast skis, so I am very lucky," Gisin told Swiss television after the race, which is considered one of the crowns on the women's circuit.

The 23-year-old's performance marked the first back-to-back set of downhill victories for Switzerland since Heidi Zurbriggen won two races in a row during the 1996-97 season.

"It is very meaningful for me to win here," Gisin added. Gisin, who started the race in ninth position, performed particularly well in the lower section of the course.

Saturday's race was run under mostly sunny conditions after fog and heavy snowfalls forced organisers to cancel three days of training sessions. The move had raised the ire of Vonn, last year's winner in Cortina and the current points leader.

Vonn leads Gisin 240-226 in the downhill standings.

"I just hope she doesn't keep beating me in the downhills," Vonn said of Gisin.

Bittersweet

For Switzerland's men, it was a bittersweet result at Kitzbühel.

Défago became the 12th racer in World Cup history – and the first since Stephan Eberharter of Austria in 2002 – to win both classic downhill races in Wengen and Kitzbühel in the same year.

But earlier in the week, the Kitzbühel run got the better of Daniel Albrecht, who crashed out near the end of the course.

The 25-year-old skier, who is eighth in the overall World Cup, slid toward the finish line on his back after flying 50 metres through the air at almost 140 km/h and was placed in an artificial coma after suffering bleeding in the brain and a lung contusion.

The crash was similar to that of US skier Scott Macartney last year on the Streif. Macartney recovered from his injuries.

"It might sound brutal but each time it's been skier error," said Hans Spring, the doctor for the Swiss ski team. "Albrecht didn't hit the jump right."

"At these speeds an error can have a big impact," he told swissinfo, adding that Albrecht was lucky he did not suffer a worst fate than he did considering the forces that ripped through his body.

Martin Rufener, Switzerland's head trainer, has suggested that more training for downhillers might help but even then accidents will still happen.

"Everyone knows that downhill racing is dangerous," he said.

swissinfo with agencies

Men's results, Kitzbühel

Didier Défago, Switzerland
1:56.09

Michael Walchhofer, Austria
1:56.26

Klaus Kroell, Austria
1:56.38

Didier Cuche, Switzerland
1:56.59

Bode Miller, United States
1:56.59

end of infobox

Women's results, Cortina

Dominique Gisin, Switzerland
1:16.98

Lindsey Vonn, United States
1:17.13

Anja Pärson, Sweden
1:17.15

Tina Maze, Slovenia
1:17.26

Maria Riesch, Germany
1:17.29

end of infobox

Men's downhill standings

Michael Walchofer, Austria
310 points

Didier Défago, Switzerland
298 points

Bode Miller, United States
275 points

Klaus Kroell, Austria
275 points

Christof Innerhofer, Italy
216 points

end of infobox

Women's downhill standings

Lindsey Vonn, United States
240 points

Dominique Gisin, Switzerland
226 points

Anja Pärson, Sweden
160 points

Maria Riesch, Germany
141 points

Nadia Fanchini, Italy
110 points

end of infobox
(swissinfo.ch)


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