The Austrian men’s team have come under fire at the World Ski Championships for their poor performance, but they will be targeting a podium clean sweep in today’s slalom event.
Benjamin Raich’s silver in the giant slalom on Friday finally broke the Austrian men’s duck and he admitted that the pressure to perform had been intense.
“People have not been happy with the Austrian men’s team because of their poor performance here,” Raich said, adding that he had sought sanctuary in Austria for training after he crashed out of the downhill. “I’m very happy to have this medal and hope it will make it much easier for the men in Sunday’s slalom. We are very strong in the slalom, what with Reinfried Herbst and Manfred Pranger. I think that now I have the medal it’ll be easier come Sunday. We can look forward to a good race.”
Any thoughts of an Austrian walk in the park, however, could be scuppered by a strong French team under pressure to nail a first home gold.
Jean-Baptiste Grange, the World Cup slalom leader with two victories and five podiums in the discipline this season, headlines a team that also includes Julien Lizeroux.
Lizeroux, who won the much-vaunted World Cup slalom event at Kitzbuhel, claimed silver in the super-combined after a barn-storming slalom run and seemed to revel in the vocal home support.
In the absence of Croatian World Cup overall leader Ivica Kostelic, who has withdrawn from the worlds because of nagging back pain, it all seems set for a France-Austria match-up.
Herbst and Pranger have scored three doubles this season, in the Swiss resorts of Wengen and Adelboden, and at Schladming in Austria, with the former notching up two victories and two more podiums to move within 100 points of Grange.
The Austrian team will also be able to call on Mario Matt, former world slalom champion from 2007 and 2001, as well as 19-year-old Marcel Hirscher, who just missed out on a podium spot in the giant slalom.
But who can rule out Bode Miller of the US?
The reigning World Cup overall champion, one of only a handful of skiers to have won world titles in all five disciplines, has endured a disastrous competition so far.
He finished 12th in the Super-G, a disappointing eighth in the fog-disrupted downhill, straddled a gate in the super-combined slalom run and crashed out of the second run of the giant slalom.
Miller’s compatriot Ted Ligety will also be boosted by his bronze medal in the giant slalom, showing great poise to rebound from a ninth-spot in the first run.
“At the beginning of the year, it started off well with two podiums,” Ligety said. “But then I got hampered by mistakes and just couldn’t find my rhythm. That’s how ski racing goes. There are lots of ups and downs. Hopefully, I’ve turned that around now.”