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Swiss-Ski hungry for more success

With seven World Cup victories, Sonja Nef was Switzerland's biggest success this season

(Keystone)

Switzerland's skiers have just completed their most successful winter in five years. But rows among the coaching staff and questions as to the depth of the squad's talent have led the national association to admit that their work is far from done.

On the surface things appear to have improved radically since last season. Swiss skiers secured 11 World Cup victories this winter (compared to just seven the previous year) and a total of 22 podium places (up three on 1999/2000).

At the world championships in St Anton the team won two gold medals and a bronze, a marked improvement on the two bronze medals won at the 1999 championships in Vail.

But while Switzerland's achievements lifted the country into second place in the national standings, the squad fell well short of their arch-rivals Austria and even a good way behind their own targets for the year.

"In general we had a good season," Swiss-Ski director Harry Sonderegger told swissinfo. "But we didn't achieve all our goals.

"One goal this season was to win as much as possible because last season wasn't so good. This year we had a lot of good places in the top three on the World Cup tour. But at the world championships we set a target of six medals and came back with just three."

Bare statistics dealing with the squad's total haul of medals and World Cup wins also conceal just how much the team owed to a few individuals.

Sonja Nef's final flourish in Are on the closing weekend of the season saw the 28-year-old Appenzeller secure her sixth and seventh wins of the winter, accounting for almost two-thirds of Switzerland's total number of victories.

Giant slalom world champion Michael von Grünigen was responsible for three of the remaining four wins, Corinne Rey-Bellet completing the set with her victory in Friday's final super-G.

While team success in skiing is of course hugely dependent on individual success, the size of Nef's contribution and the fact that all 11 Swiss wins came from just three athletes, has again raised questions about the lack of depth in the professional squad.

"We do have a problem there", Sonderegger admits. "And it's one that we've been aware of all season. But we have a number of promising youngsters coming through in the European Cup. We believe they will have a big chance to come into the World Cup and contend for medals next season."

If the likes of Ambrosi Hoffmann and Lillian Kummer can indeed convert their European Cup success into victories on the world stage, Switzerland's search for young talent may become less urgent. But the youngsters that do emerge will still need good coaching and it's in this area that the Swiss team also seem to have problems.

The head coach of the women's team Hans Pieren was suddenly jettisoned after the world championships, while on Sunday the men's slalom coach Patrice Morisod tendered his resignation - complaining of a lack of support from head coach Dieter Bartsch.

Hari Sonderegger admits that the situation with the coaching staff has been far from ideal, but he's confident the problems can be ironed out in the off-season.

"It was clear that Patrice Morisod and Dieter Bartsch didn't have a great relationship, but that was just down to a personality clash," Sonderegger insisted.

"There is always a lot of pressure on trainers, but we're going to give out some guidelines and make sure we improve internal communications to make things better for next season."

After a tough but rewarding winter, a decent holiday might be just what Swiss-Ski's trainers and athletes need, but there is little chance of that just yet.

"The Swiss championships get underway in less than two weeks time," Sonderegger explains. "Then there is more training and equipment tests, which takes us up until May. There'll be a chance to take a bit of time off after that, but only until June when the new training season starts."

This season's results may have given Swiss-Ski some reasons to be cheerful ahead of next season's Olympic winter. But even if the association was feeling inclined towards complacency, it seems the schedule wouldn't allow for it.

by Mark Ledsom


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