Only Didier Cuche’s silver medal in the downhill stopped the Swiss team from returning home empty handed from the World Ski Championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
The disappointing result at the competition, which wrapped up on Sunday, was largely due to bad luck and injuries.
The tally of just one medal is a long way from the six-medal success of Val d’Isère in France two years ago.
Switzerland was at the top of the country rankings in that competition, but in Germany it finished a more modest ninth. Neighbour and rival Austria ended top this year with its four gold, three silver and one bronze medals.
Switzerland had to content itself with near misses: fourth places for Dominique Gisin (super-combined), Lara Gut (downhill and super-G) and Cuche (super-G). Added to this was a catalogue of injuries and a virus.
Observers point out that there is no lack of talent among the Swiss team, but what they do not have is a big enough reserve pool. Austria was also hit by injury, but still managed to field winning skiers.
But if Daniel Albrecht, Didier Défargo are missing, and Carlo Janka not at his best, the whole Swiss camp is affected. Silvan Zurbriggen, a revelation at the beginning of the season, was also unable to deliver during the 12-day event in the German resort.
Cuche, the rock
Cuche, however, was on hand to save Swiss honour. Considered by many to be the best downhill skier in the world, he was only beaten to the top spot in Germany by the Canadian Erik Guay, who turned better snow conditions to his advantage.
At almost 37 years old, Cuche is the rock of the team, but the Swiss cannot lean on the big champion from the Jura forever.
After Friday’s giant slalom, which he contested with a broken thumb and in which he finished eighth, Cuche had tears in his eyes. “If I’m getting emotional, it’s because I have just realised that it’s my last race in these world championships,” he said.
Does that mean that he will retire in the spring? “As for everything else, I don’t know yet,” replied Cuche, well-practised at answering questions on the issue.
Many hope to see him ski for another year. Justin Murisier, 19 years old and from the Valais – and a surprise 14th in the giant slalom – is among them. “I really hope that he stays on another season. It’s essential to have such an experienced skier as him who can give us precious advice.”
Cuche will not be holding back – the World Cup finals are taking place in the Swiss resort of Lenzerheide from March 14 to 20. The Swiss is currently number two in the World Cup rankings after Croatia’s Ivica Kostelic and will be chasing the crystal globe in the downhill and super-G in particular.
Janka out of rhythm
For Janka, world champion in the giant slalom and bronze medallist in the downhill in Val d’Isère two years ago, the Bavarian championships have been tough.
“My goal was to get a medal. I’m not satisfied with my performance,” he said after finishing the giant slalom on Friday in seventh place.
Physically under par since the beginning of the winter, Janka, the current holder of the overall World Cup, was revealed to be suffering from variations in his heartbeat. This problem, detected in December, could have been caused by the viral infection contracted two years ago, doctors said.
Janka will undergo a heart procedure in spring. “It’s a routine operation. If everything goes to plan, he could start training again quickly and there is a strong chance that he will be back to 100 per cent capacity afterwards,” explained Dionys Glanz, the Swiss team’s doctor.
The skier remains more cautious. “I am relieved there’s been a diagnosis. But it’s just the starting point and I still don’t have all the answers to my questions.”
No Gut news
Lara Gut, another hero in the Swiss camp in France two years ago, was also disappointed in Garmisch.
She had returned to competition after a hip injury and, with a bit of extra luck, could have won a few medals for Switzerland.
She was fourth in the super-G and downhill and fell spectacularly in the slalom of the super-combined near the end of the course when she had looked on target for the podium.
The Swiss women’s team also came away empty handed after the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada last year, and will therefore be looking to remedy the situation at the next big competitions: the World Championships in Schladming in Austria in 2013 and the Winter Olympics in Sotchi in Russia in 2014.
World Ski Championships
The World Ski Championships ended on February 20.
The contest is different from the World Cup in that athletes from all over the world are allowed to compete regardless of how many points they have earned in World Cup races. Even Haiti sent a skier to this year’s event.
There were five individual races (downhill, super-G, giant, slalom and super-combined) for men and for women, as well as a mixed team event.
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
Austria: 4 gold, 3 silver, 1 bronze
France: 2 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze
Italy: 1 gold, 2 silver, 3 bronze
US: 1 gold, 2 silver
Slovenia: 1 gold, 1 silver
Canada: 1 gold
Norway: 1 gold
Sweden: 1 silver, 3 bronze
Switzerland: 1 silver
Germany: 2 bronze
Croatia: 1 bronzeEnd of insertion
In compliance with the JTI standards