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Swiss aiming high at skiing world championships

Can young star Silvano Beltrametti help Switzerland bring home six medals?

(Keystone Archive)

Switzerland's skiers will be aiming to win at least six medals at the alpine world championships which get underway in the Austrian resort of St Anton this weekend.

Even when one takes Switzerland's improved performances in this season's World Cup events into account, the target of the Swiss Ski Association appears to be ambitious. At the last world championships in Vail, the country won just two medals, and both of them were bronze.

But Dieter Bartsch, the head coach of the Swiss men's team, is adamant that Switzerland can improve radically on their 1999 showing.

"We should win at least six medal, at least one gold," Bartsch insists. "If we don't it will be a disappointment.

"There will be a lot of pressure on us," he admitted, "but that is a good thing. That's our job."

There is little doubt as to the discipline in which the Swiss team see their best medal chances. The giant slalom will be the most likely source of any gold medals for Switzerland, with Michael von Grünigen and Sonja Nef respective favourites in the men's and women's competition.

Nef has already clinched the overall World Cup giant slalom title with five wins this season, while Von Grünigen is well placed to take the men's title after building up a sizeable lead over arch-rival Hermann Maier of Austria.

Nef also has a good chance of winning a second medal in the women's slalom, and showed herself to be in good form on Friday when she took the last podium place in the World Cup race at Ofterschwang.

But if the Swiss are to live up to their own lofty ambition, they will need to rely on more than just their two big stars. The Swiss squad contains a mix of young stars and experienced veterans, and it is hoped that this blend could produce some unexpected highpoints.

Silvano Beltrametti is currently the brightest of the young Swiss stars. After missing most of last season following a horrific crash in Wengen, the 21-year-old from Graubünden made a dream return last November, coming second in the opening men's downhill in Lake Louise.

Beltrametti's emergence onto the world stage also seems to have had a beneficial effect on downhill veterans Bruno Kernen and Didier Cuche who could also be seen as medal outsiders after posting steadily improving times in recent weeks.

Kernen is one of five Swiss men travelling to St Anton with previous experience of winning world championship medals. Von Grünigen, Urs Kälin, Paul Accola and Steve Locher are the other four.

Among the women Corinne Rey-Bellet will be hoping to convert previous good memories of St Anton into a first appearance on a world championship podium. The 28-year-old from canton Valais is still highly regarded in this Austrian resort for her achievement two years ago, when she won a downhill race and a super-G within five hours of each other.

Even if the Swiss team can live up to their six-medal hopes, only the most optimistic of fans will be dreaming of a medal haul to surpass that of the championship's hosts.

In a resort that is often described as the cradle of skiing, the Austrians are expected to show once again that they are the current masters of the sport.
Some experts are already talking of a record medal tally for Hermann Maier and his team-mates.

For that to happen, though, the Austrians would have to improve on the 14 world championship medals won in 1987 by none other than the Swiss. For Von Grünigen and company, the dream of thwarting Austrian ambitions might be just as motivating as that of realising their own.

by Mark Ledsom


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