Swiss hope for gold on Bavarian slopes
Swiss skiers have their eyes set firmly on gold at the World Championships which start in the Bavarian resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen on February 7.
They aim to repeat their success of two years ago at Val d’Isère in France, where Switzerland came top in the country ranking for the first time in 20 years.
In 2009, Didier Cuche, Carlo Janka and Lara Gut won six medals between them, including two golds.
The same trio are still Switzerland’s best medal hopes. Cuche, current world super-G champion, is the hot favourite for the downhill, on the Kandahar – one of the toughest runs in the world.
Having come second in the World Cup race at Wengen and won at Kitzbühel and Chamonix, at nearly 37 Cuche seems to be better than ever.
“I can’t take on any more, and I mustn’t overextend myself. Of course, winning at Kitzbühel lifts a weight from your shoulders. When you feel that confident, you don’t spend so much time thinking about the line, which means you can go all out. If you do it right, you can go fast,” he said after his win in Chamonix.
Cuche will go into the world cup downhill with “a great psychological advantage over his main rivals, the Austrians Michael Walchhofer and Klaus Kröll”, says William Besse, himself a successful downhill skier who now acts as a consultant for Swiss television.
Even if he had a disappointing Olympics last winter, Cuche is used to finding himself favourite in the starting gate and that shouldn’t do him any harm, Besse told swissinfo.ch.
Back on track
A second Swiss, Carlo Janka, current overall world champion, is also one of the hot favourites in Garmisch, although he has had a disappointing start to the season after a mysterious virus infection last summer.
“Even if you’re a really top class sportsman, when your training is disrupted for two consecutive years, that leaves its mark,” said Besse.
Nevertheless, Janka’s form started to improve at the beginning of January, with two podium places at Wengen. He gave Chamonix a miss.
“That was a good decision. I am sure that he’s not someone to be ignored,” Besse commented.
A rising star
In the absence of Olympic downhill gold medallist Didier Défago, who has a knee injury, Switzerland’s third trump card among the men is the revelation of the season, Silvan Zurbriggen.
He hit the headlines with his victory in the downhill at Val Gardena, and has proved to be such a good all-rounder that he is currently fourth in the overall rankings. However, he and Cuche (#2) and Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal (#3) all lie far behind the leader, the Croat Ivica Kostelic.
In recent events Zurbriggen has not done quite so well, all physical effort he has put into the sport since October doubtless taking its toll. He has competed in 22 of the 24 races so far.
As bronze medal winner in the super-combined at the Vancouver Olympics, that is the discipline where he has his greatest chance of a podium place.
“And if he manages to let himself go, he will also be one of the favourites for the downhill and super-G,” Besse predicted.
An amazing talent
As for the women, Switzerland’s greatest hopes lie with Lara Gut. A dislocated hip kept her out of the Vancouver Olympics, but since she returned to the slopes she has been steadily improving.
She came third in the downhill at Val d’Isère in December, then won at Zauchensee at the beginning of the year and was again on the podium in Cortina after the super-G.
Gut has also made the headlines off the slopes. She was handed a two-race suspension by Swiss Ski between Christmas and the New Year after having publicly criticised Mario Pini, chief coach of the women’s ski team.
But Gut is not Switzerland’s only card in the speed events. Fabienne Suter, Dominique Gisin and Nadja Kamer will also be trying to pick up some of the crumbs left by the two giants of the women’s circuit, Maria Riesch of Germany and Lindsey Vonn of the United States.
But in the technical events (slalom and giant), Swiss Ski’s efforts have not got very far, and no Swiss is expected to do particularly well here this year.
Garmisch World Championships
The ski world championships take place from February 7 to 20.
There are five individual races (downhill, super-G, giant, slalom and super-combined) for men and for women, as well as a mixed team event.
The Bavarian resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen lies a few kilometres from the Austrian border.
It was the site of the 1936 Winter Olympics, and is part of Munich’s bid for the 2018 games.
It has hosted the World Ski Championships twice, in 1978 and 2001.
Garmisch is the site of the Kandahar run, reputed to be one of the toughest in the world. The Kandahar is one of the runs on the World Cup circuit.End of insertion
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