Down the Lauberhorn to the Turin Olympics

The Lauberhon is all about getting off to a fast start. Lauberhornrennen

This weekend will see the ski World Cup circuit move to the Swiss Alps with the classic Lauberhorn races.

This content was published on January 12, 2006 - 13:45

Barely one month away from the Winter Olympics several Swiss skiers have another opportunity to qualify for Turin.

"The Lauberhorn downhill is a work of God," local legend and six-time Lauberhorn champion, Karl Molitor joked to swissinfo last year.

The Lauberhorn race, set against the backdrop of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau mountains in the Bernese Oberland, is famous at home and abroad.

The 4.465-metre course with a height difference of 1,028 metres is considered one of the technically most demanding races of the World Cup calendar.

It includes the jump at the Hundschopf turn, the passages at the Brüggli corner or the Wasserstation tunnel or the final jump, where Austria's Gernot Reinstadler was killed in 1991.

The race was first organised in the 1930s as a competition to determine whether the English officers on holiday in the winter resort or the local Swiss were the better skiers.

Over the years the Lauberhorn has become one of the top downhill events of the ski World Cup circuit.

Organisers expect more than 20,000 spectators to flock to the annual event which gets underway on Friday in Wengen.

Olympic opportunity

This year the races will be the perfect opportunity for a number of Swiss skiers to excel and clinch a place in the Swiss team for the Winter Olympics in neighbouring Italy in February.

Four athletes - Ambrosi Hoffmann, Tobias Grünenfelder, Bruno Kernen and Didier Défago - passed the hurdles during the first half of the season, but they still have to confirm their Olympic place with a top result in January.

"We have agreed criteria with Swiss Ski [the national association], but there is a certain margin of manoeuvre to interpret the results in favour of the athletes if possible," said Werner Augsburger, head of the Swiss Olympic delegation.

He added that there are another three major races on the agenda this month in Kitzbühel, Schladming and Garmisch in which candidates can qualify.

"We are discussing whether to even consider the results of some of the races in February to give certain skiers an additional chance," Augsburger said.

The Swiss men's downhill team is doing well, but the athletes of the technical disciplines are lagging behind, according to Marc Wälti, spokesman of Swiss Ski.

Experts say in the Swiss women's team it is Nadia Styger, Fränzi Aufdenblatten and Sylviane Berthod who stand good chances of qualifying for Turin.

Sonja Nef, who has been struggling to keep up with the best, is less likely to make it to the Olympics.

swissinfo, Mathias Froidevaux

In brief

The criteria for candidates to qualify for the Winter Olympics in Turin in February were agreed between Swiss Ski and Swiss Olympic.

Candidates have to finish at least one race of the World Cup within the top seven and one among the top 15.

So far four Swiss men have secured a place in the Swiss delegation – Ambrosi Hoffmann, Tobias Grünenfelder, Didier Défago and Bruno Kernen.

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Key facts

The 4.465-metre Lauberhorn classic is the oldest and longest downhill race in the Wold Cup circuit.
More than 20,000 spectators are expected to attend the races in the Bernese resort of Wengen.
The event brings an annual revenue of SFr9 million ($7.1 million) to the region.
Bruno Kernen is the last Swiss skier to have won the Lauberhorn downhill in 2003.

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