A second place finish for Sonja Nef in Sunday's Saalbach slalom race has lifted Swiss spirits after an otherwise disappointing weekend for the country's skiers.This content was published on January 13, 2002 - 13:36
After managing only the seventh fastest time in the day's opening run, Nef powered vigorously down the course on her second run to claw her way up the standings.
France's Laure Pequegnot was the only woman able to overtake Nef, with first run leader Tanja Poutiainen crashing out dramatically shortly after the start of the second run.
Sunday's result marked the third time this season that the Swiss giant slalom world champion has made it onto the podium in her second strongest discipline.
Gaining 80 World Cup points as a result of her performance, Nef is now an impressive fourth in the slalom standings, and third in the overall rankings behind Sweden's Anja Paerson and Austria's Michaela Dorfmeister, trailing her two rivals by just eight and seven points respectively.
After recording the fifth quickest time in Sunday's opening run, Nef's Swiss team-mate Marlies Oester was unable to keep up the pace during the second run, but still managed to finish with a respectable ninth place overall.
Swiss men disappoint
Meanwhile, back on home snow, the Swiss men never came close to emulating Nef's achievements with Sunday's slalom race in Wengen being dominated by foreign athletes.
Urs Imboden and Marco Casanova were the only Swiss skiers to qualify for the second run, eventually going on to take 18th and 21st place respectively.
The Swiss crowd did at least have an extremely tight finish to savour with Croatia's Ivica Kostelic winning the event by just one hundredth of a second over Slovenia's Mitja Kunc.
Italy's Edoardo Zardini took an extremely surprising third place, coming in three tenths of a second behind Kunc in what was the Italian's first ever appearance in the second stage of a World Cup slalom race.
Austrians rule Lauberhorn
By far the biggest disappointment of the weekend came in Saturday's Lauberhorn race with Switzerland's arch-rivals Austria making an almost clean sweep of the legendary Wengen event.
Six of the top seven places went to the Austrian team, with Stephan Eberharter, Hannes Trinkl and Josef Strobl completing an all-Austrian podium.
"It's great to win my first classic downhill," said a delighted Eberharter afterwards. "I think it's every skier's dream to win here in Wengen and I'm certainly no different. I will never forget this day."
Following his own dream win in the Adelboden giant slalom last week, Swiss hopeful Didier Cuche suffered a rude awakening on the Lauberhorn when he had to settle for 22nd place.
"My dream certainly didn't come true here in Wengen," Cuche told swissinfo in the Lauberhorn finish area. "But that's sport. The races don't always go the same way and that's what makes it interesting.
Cavegn best Swiss
Franco Cavegn, Switzerland's most consistent performer in the downhill this season fared slightly better - finishing in 12th place, while fellow Swiss team-members Ambrosi Hoffmann and Bruno Kernen came in 13th and joint 14th respectively.
"At the top of the course things went very well for me," Cavegn told swissinfo, "but I had a problem at the Bröckli (bridge) and I couldn't maintain my speed. It's bad that none of the Swiss guys were able to be at the front today but we're looking ahead now and hoping to do better next week."
Swift Swiss revenge?
Next weekend's action offers the Swiss downhill team the chance to get their own back on Austrian snow, when the World Cup circus moves on to the classic Streif race in Kitzbühel.
"Exactly," agreed Didier Cuche with a smile, "The Austrians won here and I'm going to Kitzbühel to take my revenge."
Before then though the Austrians will have another chance to shine in Wengen, with Sunday seeing the Swiss resort play host to a World Cup slalom race. The slalom discipline is easily the Swiss team's biggest weakness and, if last year is anything to go by, could produce another uncomfortable day for the home supporters.
In 2001, the Austrian team ran away with the Wengen slalom, taking all of the top five positions.
by Mark Ledsom, Wengen
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