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Swiss head for Lahti with low expectations

The signs aren't looking good for Swiss skiers in Lahti

(Keystone)

Nordic skiers from around the world are arriving in Finland for Thursday's start to the world championships in Lahti. But Swiss medal hopes in the lakeside city would appear to be as barren as the surrounding winter scenery.

Just days after the country's alpine skiers returned from Austria with three world championship medals, their counterparts in the Nordic team are setting out with more modest ambitions.

Harry Sonderegger, the head of the Swiss delegation, told swissinfo on Tuesday that top ten places would be the general aim of the squad, although he is hoping that the men's cross-country relay team can finish in the top six.

"In Switzerland the priority has always been on alpine skiing," explained Sonderegger. "Two years ago [the Swiss skiing association] decided to focus more on Nordic skiing, but we still have a long way to go."

In keeping with its name and history, Nordic skiing continues to be the playground of the Finns, the Norwegians and the Swedes, with Russia and other eastern European states providing most of the outside competition.

But while it is true that factors of geography and public interest can explain Switzerland's far greater interest in alpine skiing, the Swiss are still languishing behind other alpine nations in the Nordic branch of the sport.

Austria and Italy have managed to combine a strong showing in the downhill disciplines with some healthy performances in the Nordic cross-country, while Germany have enjoyed recent successes in the ski-jumping competitions. The Austrians and the Germans are also expected to be challenging for medals in the combined events.

The Swiss delegation in Lahti may not be posing much of a threat to their neighbours during this month's tournament, but Sonderreger is confident that improvements will soon be seen.

"It is our goal," he said, "to be among the top teams within the next four to five years."

For now, though, the target of top ten places remains, with Brigitte Albrecht and Reto Burgermeister among the most likely Swiss contenders in the individual cross-country races.

In the ski-jumping events, Swiss trainer Berni Schödler has expressed his happiness with his team's final training session in the Black Forest, but admitted that a place in the top ten in any of the individual competitions would be a "sensation".

The Swiss are also hoping to improve on their performance in the team jumping events, after coming second from last at the 1999 world championships.

Swiss prospects are bleak though in the combined disciplines, where trainer Ladislav Rygl is hoping to see two of his athletes finish in the top 20.

by Mark Ledsom


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