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Swiss skiers hope to match last season's peaks

(Keystone)

Switzerland's alpine ski teams are optimistic about the forthcoming season, despite a spate of injuries.

The Swiss are aiming for six medals at the Winter Olympics, even if they are heading to Vancouver without injured teenage star Lara Gut.

"Expectations are high after last season's unbelievable results," Swiss Ski President Urs Lehmann told journalists in Lausanne on Friday. "A huge season is starting. I hope we are as successful as the Swiss football team."

Over the past three years the Swiss team has revamped itself as a dominant force on the ski circuit.

At the Alpine Ski World Championships in Val d'Isère, France, in February2009 the Swiss team usurped Austria for the first time in a decade to win six medals from ten events.

The men's team also excelled in World Cup races with eight victories and ten other podium places. The women's team also stood 12 times on the winning podium.

"It will be hard to equal or beat this tally," said men's team trainer Martin Rufener.

Yet he has set an ambitious target of 20 podium finishes for the 2009/2010 season, which begins in Sölden, Austria on October 24-25.

Daniel Albrecht

Rufener will be relying mostly on Didier Cuche, Carlo Janka and Silvan Zurbriggen but he will most probably be without Daniel Albrecht.

"He has to take his time. After what happened to him in Kitzbühel, it's already amazing to have him back with us as from this summer," said Rufener.

The 25-year-old is miraculously back on skis after a life-threatening crash on January 22.

Albrecht lost control and flew through the air for about 50 metres during training for a World Cup downhill race in Kitzbühel, Austria. He landed badly on his back and suffered bleeding on the brain and a lung contusion.

Albrecht told journalists he had decided to take two weeks' rest after intensive training with the team.

"It could take more time, and it may not work," he said. "I really trained hard recently – anyone would be tired after that."

At the end of September he announced that he was counting on returning to the World Cup circuit for the opening race.

Before his accident Albrecht was the reigning super-combined world champion and had four career World Cup victories – three in giant slalom (two in 2009) and one in super-combined.

Other injuries

Rufener should also be able to count on Didier Défago despite a broken thumb.

"Didier won't be in Sölden, but there shouldn't be a problem for his participation in North America," said the trainer.

But he remained much vaguer about Marc Berthod, who was out all last season with back problems.

Skiers Beat Feuz, Cornel Züger and Ralph Kreuzer have rejoined the team after a season of injuries.

"We are happy where we are right now. The main goal for our team is the Olympics," he told swissinfo.ch.

Switzerland is aiming for four men's medals and two in women's races - double its total from the 2006 Turin Olympics. No Swiss Alpine skier has won Olympic gold since 1994.

Female progress

On the women's side, trainer Hugues Ansermoz is hoping the team can continue the progress and results of last season and is aiming at ten podium finishes.

"It's important for us to show our confidence. We have a big team. I don't want to lower the objectives just because we lost Lara Gut, and other girls are not 100 per cent fit," he told swissinfo.ch.

Gut underwent a successful operation on her injured hip a week ago following a training fall in September and is likely to be out for about three months, her father and coach Pauli Gut said this week.

Ansermoz was slightly less optimistic.

"It's true that this year we'll probably have to do without Lara Gut for much of the World Cup; and it looks like it will be very difficult for her to get back for the Olympics," he said.

Gut sprang into international reckoning last season, with three World Cup podium finishes and two silver medals at the World Championships in Val d'Isere.

Downhill and giant slalom specialist Fabienne Suter should compete at the first World Cup event in Sölden after recovering from concussion, Ansermoz confirmed.

"Our female team is very strong, and it's not just one or two personalities," he noted.

Ansermoz is has high hopes for promising young racers like Andrea Dettling, Denise Feierabend, Nadja Kamer and Aline Bonjour.

"They have the chance to be on the podium and be there fighting for medals," he said. "It's now up to other girls to step forward."

Simon Bradley in Lausanne, swissinfo.ch

In brief

The opening races of the World Cup ski season in Sölden, Austria, have been confirmed for October 24-25.

A women's giant slalom will open the season on October 24 with a men's giant slalom a day later.

Lindsey Vonn of the United States and Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway are the defending overall World Cup champions.

The Vancouver Olympic Games take place from February 12-28.

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