Sonja Nef provided the Swiss ski team with some much-needed cheer on Sunday after finishing third in the World Cup slalom race in Sestriere.This content was published on December 9, 2001 - 16:38
The giant slalom world champion and newly-crowned Swiss sportswoman of the year ended Sunday's race behind Sweden's Anja Pärson and Finland's Tanja Poutiainen to clinch only her fifth ever podium place in the slalom discipline.
It was the first piece of good news for the team since Saturday's tragic accident in which rising Swiss star Silvano Beltrametti was paralysed for life and the unfortunate youngster was the first person on Nef's mind as she stepped onto the podium.
"How gladly would I give this place to Silvano," said Nef at the end of a wretched weekend for the Swiss team. "All I can do though is to wish him the best of strength."
Nef's performance on Sunday was all the more impressive given the build up to the Sestriere race. As well as having to put Beltrametti's injuries out of her mind, the Swiss star found her preparations further disrupted when the helicopter flying her from Saturday night's Sports Awards ceremony had to be diverted to Turin.
But despite a late finish on Saturday and an early start in poor conditions on Sunday, Nef kept a clear head - climbing from sixth place in the first run to her eventual podium place.
Marlies Oester and Corina Grünenfelder completed a good day in Sestriere for the Swiss, with both women securing top 15 places.
Oester finished ninth, fulfilling the qualifying criteria for a place at February's Winter Olympics, while Grünenfelder came in joint 14th, matching her best previous World Cup result.
Hard time for men's team
In Val d'Isère, Michael von Grünigen achieved an impressive fifth place in Sunday's giant slalom despite suffering from an injured shoulder which had earlier put his participation in doubt. Although happy with his own performance, the Swiss world champion said he was still struggling to come to terms with Saturday's events.
"I don't have the words to express my feelings on what happened to Silvano," von Grünigen said. "It's all just tragic."
Twenty-four hours after the young star's accident, the rest of the Swiss team also seemed keen to get away from Val d'Isère.
"There wasn't a minute before the first run in which I didn't think of Silvano's accident," said Didier Cuche. "Seeing the spot where he fell was especially difficult."
The Swiss skiers insisted though that they had never had any doubt about taking part in Sunday's race.
"Us not starting wouldn't have achieved anything," Cuche explained. "We went out there in the style of Silvano who has always been a go-getter."
"Life goes on, the season goes on," agreed Didier Defago. "We have to keep up our concentration. But in the quiet moments, this accident will always be in our minds."
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