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One year and counting

World championship organiser Alexander Schmidt is counting the days Keystone

Winter sports fans around the globe may be getting ready for the upcoming Winter Olympics, but in St Moritz the organisers of next year's alpine skiing world championships are looking a little further ahead.

The two World Cup ski races being held in the Swiss resort this weekend are more than just a warm up for Salt Lake City. They are also a major dress rehearsal for St Moritz with exactly 12 months to go until the world championships roll into town.

“It’s a final test for us,” world championship general director Alexander Schmidt told swissinfo. “It’s important to see what works and what we can improve upon in the coming year.”

Daunting downhill

One of the areas under closest scrutiny has been the daunting start to the men’s downhill course. Pitched at 45 degrees, the opening 130-metre stretch sees the athletes accelerate from nought to 100 kilometres per hour in under seven seconds. Following Saturday’s successful race, the organisers can now breathe a little easier.

“I’m very pleased with the downhill,” smiled Schmidt, “but the main thing is that the athletes are also happy. The snow and piste conditions are excellent so we should be able to present an excellent race in 2003 to suit the world championship standard.”

Ballot battle

The biggest hurdle for the St Moritz organisers to overcome in the weeks ahead is set to come not on the slopes but rather at the ballot box. On March 3, the people of canton Graubünden will vote on whether to approve a SFr 4 million contribution to the championships.

“It’s very important for us to get that money because four million francs represents ten per cent of our total budget,” Schmidt points out. “I think we need that contribution if we are to maintain the quality standard appropriate to Switzerland and also Graubünden.”

Since Graubünden is Switzerland’s largest canton in terms of geographical area, Schmidt’s team have much more than just the citizens of St Moritz to persuade and the weeks ahead will involve plenty of travel.

“It’s certainly not easy,” Schmidt admits. “In the next four of five weeks we’ll be going to lots of different areas and holding public information evenings. We started our campaign a couple of days ago and will also be using newspapers and posters to help communicate our message.”

Spreading the word

After the March 3 vote, the St Moritz organisers will then embark on a mission to publicise the event across Switzerland as a whole. A recent survey suggested that 80 per cent of the Swiss public were not yet aware that their country was due to host the world championships.

“I’m not too concerned about that figure at the moment,” Schmidt insists. “I think a lot of it has to do with the major events coming up this year. As well as the Winter Olympics there is the football World Cup to think about so you can’t expect everyone to know about a championships that are still a year away. But I think in a couple of month’s time they’ll know all about us.”

by Mark Ledsom, St Moritz

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