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Nef keeps Swiss smiling

Nef celebrated two top three finishes in Maribor Keystone

Sonja Nef took third place in Sunday's World Cup slalom race in Maribor, capping a memorable weekend for Swiss skiers both at home and abroad.

After winning Friday’s giant slalom event in the Slovenian resort and coming eighth in Saturday’s slalom, the 29-year-old Appenzeller secured her second podium place of the weekend – finishing Sunday’s race just behind Sweden’s Anja Paerson and France’s Laure Pequegnot.

Starting Sunday’s second run in sixth place, Nef put in an impressive second run, clearly demonstrating the great strides that the reigning giant slalom world champion has made in her second strongest discipline.

Strong team showing

Just as on Saturday, the competition in Maribor saw a strong showing by the Swiss women’s team in general with Corina Gruenenfelder taking eighth place and Marlies Oester coming 12th.

After taking tenth spot in Saturday’s slalom, Gruenenfelder was again celebrating her best ever finish in a World Cup race. Oester, who came fifth on Saturday, showed that her return to form, after a series of career-threatening injuries, was no fluke.

Slalom disappointment in Adelboden

In Oester’s home-town of Adelboden, meanwhile, the Swiss men’s team were unable to follow up on Didier Cuche’s remarkable win in Saturday’s giant slalom race.

Sunday’s slalom event saw only two Swiss skiers, Marco Casanova and Thomas Geisser, make it through to the second run with Casanova eventually finishing in 23rd place and Casanova in 27th.

There was no lack of excitement for the watching supporters, though, who were able to cheer an amazing performance by America’s Bode Miller who clinched his second slalom victory of the season with a winning margin of almost two seconds.

Easily knocking Croatia’s Ivica Kostelic into second place, Miller admitted that his rise in form had come in “perfect” time for next month’s Winter Olympics.

“The way all the guys are skiing here I knew I’d have to come out for my second run as hard as I could,” Miller said, “and I think I managed to do just that.”

Cuche cause for celebration

While the American fans had the most to celebrate on Sunday the Swiss supporters will have little to complain about after seeing the national team secure two victories in three days. Unsurprisingly, Saturday’s dramatic win by Didier Cuche on home snow caused particularly rowdy celebrations in Adelboden.

The former butcher from Neuchatel wowed a record crowd of 17,000 spectators on Saturday when he won his first race in four years with more than a second to spare. All the more remarkable was the fact that Cuche won in the giant slalom discipline, previously considered his third strongest event.

“It’s incredible,” a beaming Cuche told swissinfo, “because although I knew I could be fast in the giant slalom and maybe win a race sometime I never thought I would do it by 2002.”


The key to Cuche’s victory came in his astonishing first run in which he tore down the daunting Kuonisbärgli course as if it was a nursery slope. Pushing himself to his very limits at the end, Cuche came close to wiping out just two gates from the finish line but held on to take a commanding 1.10 second lead into the final run.

“I actually thought I was going too slow in the first run,” Cuche revealed, “because I wasn’t having any problems so when I saw my time in the finish area I couldn’t believe it.”

Although Cuche’s only previous victory dates back to a Kitzbühel downhill race in January 1998, there have been plenty of indications this season that his time would soon come again.

Impressive start

Cuche’s impressive start to the current campaign has included eight top ten finishes with his latest in Adelboden lifting him up to third place in the sport’s overall rankings behind Austria’s Stephan Eberharter and Sunday slalom winner Miller.

“I had some good conditioning training in the summer,” Cuche replied when asked to explain his recent rise in form. “And I think I’m a lot quieter in my mind than last year. The way my ski training went in the summer also gave me a lot of confidence for the start of the season.”

Swiss ski fans will hope that home snow can prove just as successful for Cuche and his team-mates in the days ahead – next weekend sees Switzerland hosting World Cup ski action once again with Wengen staging the classic Lauberhorn downhill race on Saturday followed by a slalom on Sunday.

by Mark Ledsom, Adelboden

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR