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Nef seventh in controversial slalom

Nef weaves her way down the demanding St Anton piste

(Keystone)

Switzerland's Sonja Nef battled her way to seventh position in Wednesday's world championship slalom race, slogging her way down a demanding piste which many athletes and officials later described as unfit for competition.

More than a third of the 89 women who started the race crashed out in their first run, with slushy snow throwing many off their line.

"It was certainly very difficult up there," Nef told swissinfo after her second run. "The weather was warm and the snow was soft, but what can I say? My race went ok, so I don't feel too bad."

Others were less charitable about the state of Wednesday's piste. The overall World Cup slalom champion, Janica Kostelic, was particularly furious after managing only a fifth-placed finish.

"With the great racers Katja Seizinger, Deborah Compagnoni and Pernilla Wiberg, this race would never have been held," complained the Croatian teenager.

That might just sound like sour grapes to those who had not witnessed the race, but Kostelic found support in the neutral voice of Gian Franco Kasper, the president of the International Ski Federation.

"The course was not worthy of the world championships," Kasper said. "It was disrespectful towards the athletes, but no team made an intervention against the race. It's their job to do something."

After joining the 30-odd competitors who crashed out in the first run, Sweden's former World Cup slalom champion Ylva Nowen described the conditions as "an absolute catastrophe", while the German women's team coach, Wolfgang Maier, found them "completely irregular."

Even the eventual gold medallist, Sweden's Anja Paerson, was critical of the course, after crossing the line ahead of France's Christelle Saioni and Norway's Hedde Berntsen.

"I had a really tough time," she said. "I can't say whether the race should have been run or not. I am happy now, but maybe the others are not so happy."

Nef's relative composure seemed to stem from her status as an outsider when it came to medal chances in the slalom event. But the World Cup giant slalom champion will certainly be hoping for better conditions in her specialist event on Friday.

"My performances in the slalom have been inconsistent all winter," she reflected. "I've had two podium finishes from seven World Cup slalom races, so for me to get the bronze or anything better would have been a major surprise.

"I'm not even thinking about the giant slalom right now. I'm going to get something to eat, have a sleep and the race will still be a whole day away."

Following a night of high emotions in St Anton, Nef at least appeared able to concetrate on her next and most important challenge. But for some of the world's top skiers and their trainers it seemed unlikely that the anger and recriminations would fade in the light of dawn.

by Mark Ledsom


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