Connect to share and comment

Alpine skiing: Ski-crazed Austria demands elusive gold

PlacardEnlarge
(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Medal expectations were high going into the world championships, as they always are for ski-crazy Austria, but with just one bronze to their name, the racers have resorted to oft-repeated arguments that "you need luck" and "this is sport."

"Bronze at last," the daily Kurier headlined Saturday after Nicole Hosp brought Austria its first and only medal so far, in the super-combined.

"Relief for the ski nation," the newspaper also commented as the two-week ski fest reached its halfway point.

The Kronen Zeitung went further, demanding: "We want GOLD."

In four races so far, including the men's downhill -- the blue riband event of alpine skiing -- Austria's skiers have managed to scrape together just one medal, although they have accumulated fourth-place finishes.

This compares to gold and silver for Slovenia, gold and bronze for both Norway and the US, and gold for Germany -- all nations with far fewer athletes.

In the men's super-G, Austria's four racers finished in the top 10 but narrowly missed the podium. The women did even better in the super-combined taking third, fourth, fifth and sixth place.

"I think the public wants it even more than we do," said pre-favourite Hannes Reichelt, who finished a frustrating fourth in the super-G and went out in the downhill, insisting: "I just want to ski well."

Gold in downhill, which has eluded Austria since 2003, "means a lot. The downhill is still the blue riband in alpine skiing," said the 32-year-old.

"But I always said, everything needs to come together, all the factors. And if one isn't right, you're not on the podium.

"Nobody can say we didn't try," added the 2011 super-G world silver medallist.

"You need a little luck on your side."

Going into these world championships on home snow, national alpine ski chief Hans Pum set the objective at "six to eight medals for Austria."

Ski federation president Peter Schroecksnadel meanwhile predicted a medal in every discipline.

"Pity there's not a team medal," quipped eighth-placed Romed Baumann after the super-G.

Pum was in a less joking mood however: "World championships are about medals, and we didn't win any. I'm disappointed."

The current dearth of success comes after exceptional 2011 world championships in Garmisch where the Austrian women snatched five medals in five disciplines, including four gold, while the men took home two medals.

In 2010, the country already despaired at a poor Olympic tally with just three medals, including one gold, none of them from the men.

The silver lining now comes in the shape of media darling Marcel Hirscher, the overall and giant slalom World Cup winner, who has lined up 13 podiums and six wins this season.

But like his veteran teammates, the level-headed 23-year-old has taken to lowering expectations of success from a medal-hungry country with little success in other sports, aside from ski jumping or biathlon.

"I'm not a Swiss clock, I'm not a computer programme... I could make mistakes precisely at the world championships and people should not then be disappointed," Hirscher already warned after his slalom win in Kitzbuehel.

Former overall World Cup winner Hosp was visibly relieved after securing a first medal for her country Friday, describing it as "a balm for the soul."

"It was really hard because there were no medals in two races for Austria, the whole nation was looking at these races and everybody wanted to get medals."

"It was really important to get one. I think it's the first medal of many," she announced hopefully.

Slovenian firebolt Tina Maze, who has already raked in super-G gold and super-combined silver in Schladming, agreed: "The Austrians want to win medals. Once one has broken through, it will be easier."

The ski-mad nation will now be rooting for a medal in the women's downhill on Sunday, as well as in the giant slalom and slalom events later next week, with the local press no doubt poised to proclaim a new national hero or slam a historical debacle depending on the outcome.

ssw/lp/gnf

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130209/alpine-skiing-ski-crazed-austria-demands-elusive-gold