The Swiss skiing federation, Swiss-Ski, is celebrating its 100th birthday this year.
Coinciding with the anniversary is this season’s Ski World Cup, which got underway on the Sölden glacier in Austria on Saturday.
The Swiss ski teams were out in force when the skiing season officially opened this weekend on the Austrian slopes. However, they did not manage a podium finish.
Marlies Oester was the best-placed Swiss in the women's giant slalom after she came ninth while her compatriot Sonja Nef followed in tenth position.
Germany's Martina Ertl won the race and World Cup champion, Anja Paerson, of Sweden crossed the finish line second. Maia Jose Rienda Contreras came third to collect Spain's first podium finish since 2000.
In the men's event, Tobias Gruenenfelder was the best-placed Swiss in 13th position while Didier Cuche came in one spot behind. The United States' Bode Miller won the event in a time of two minutes and nine seconds.
The pressure is on Swiss-Ski's men’s and women’s teams to excel in their events - even if an Olympic medal is not at stake - to commemorate its founding on November 20, 1904 in Olten.
“I think that, out of respect for the pioneers of Swiss skiing, the athletes should go all out to have as many victories as possible during this ski season which falls on the centenary,” said the director of Swiss-Ski, Jean-Marie Mudry.
After last season’s somewhat meagre tally of four medals – two silver and two bronze – won during the world championships in Saint Moritz in February, the Swiss skiers are on a mission to avenge themselves on Austria, the world giant on the ski scene.
But it might be an uphill struggle as both teams have lost their leaders – Corinne Rey-Bellet and Michael von Grünigen have retired.
Gian Gilli, Swiss-Ski’s head of competition, is aware of the gulf that separates Switzerland from its prestigious neighbour.
He wants emphasis to be placed on the programme to train up skiers nationwide, so that Switzerland has more competitive athletes at its disposal when it comes to international competitions in the future.
It has been two years since the pilot scheme to produce more professional skiers was launched and it is already bearing fruit. At the last world championships in Serre Chevalier, seven medals were won, five of them gold.
“One of the first goals has been achieved,” explained Didier Bonvin, who works with the alpine scheme.
“We are on the right track but we still have a lot of work to do.”
Nearly SFr2.5 million ($1.9 million) has already been pumped into national junior teams and ski clubs as part of the scheme.
swissinfo, Mathias Froidevaux
The Swiss ski federation was founded on November 20, 1904 in Olten.
Swiss-Ski has an annual budget of SFr25 million.
The 2003/2004 ski season opens this weekend in Sölden, Austria.
Seven Swiss women skiers will participate in the opening slalom.
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