Switzerland's skiers have made a disappointing start in today's World Cup slalom at Wengen in the Bernese Oberland. The country's best hope, Didier Plaschy, has already gone out. Jure Kosir of Slovenia (pictured) is leading.
Jure Kosir of Slovenia made light of difficult conditions to lead after the first leg of today's World Cup slalom at Wengen, in the Bernese Oberland.
Kosir, who was the first man down the course, finished in a time of 50.57 seconds, exactly half a second ahead of Hans-Petter Buraas of Norway. In fact the top six places were taken by Slovenes and Norwegians.
There was disappointment for the big crowd, however, when the local favourite, Didier Plaschy, winner of two World Cup slaloms so far this year, went out. He was quickly followed by his compatriot, Marco Casanova.
Other Swiss favourites - like Michael von Grünigen and Paul Accola - registered disappointing times and are unlikely to make up the difference on the second leg. In fact, the best time by a Swiss competitor came from Urs Imboden - but even he was well over two seconds off the pace.
It has been a real test of the competitors' ability and powers of concentration. Not only have the course designers lengthened the course by some 190 metres to make it more challenging, but the weather is making things even more difficult. A blanket of mist has reduced visibilibility to 50 metres.
As expected, it was glory for Austria in Saturday's downhill, with five competitors from that country occupying the top seven places.
But the hot favourite before the race, World Cup overall leader, Hermann Maier, had to settle for second in the 70th running of the world-famous Lauberhorn race.
The winner turned out to be Maier's compatriot, Josef Strobl, who completed the classic course in the shadow of the Eiger in a time of two minutes 29.17 seconds - 0.16 of a second quicker than the Herminator.
Strobl, known affectionately on the circuit as Pepi, was understandably overjoyed with his victory: "This win means so much to me, not just because I beat Hermann Maier, but because it comes after a long period of disappointments," he said.
Maier, who extended his lead in the World Cup standings to over 450 points, was also pleased, though he admitted he could have gone a little faster.
"I slowed on certain risky passages, because my goal was to make sure I crossed the finish line," Maier said, adding that Strobl's win would "make the World Cup more interesting because it shows that the serial winner can be beaten".
Two Swiss skiers also put in creditable performances, with Didier Cuche and Bruno Kernen finishing equal eighth. For Kernen, the 1997 World Champion, it reresented proof that his rehabilitation after last year's knee operation is back on track.
Cuche, registering his best finish of the season, jumped to 11th on the World Cup rankings. He's now the highest-placed Swiss.
Meanwhile, his teammate, Silvano Beltrametti, who suffered a bad crash at the famous Ziel-S finish of the downhill, will undergo medical tests on Monday after sustaining chest injuries and concussion.
By Roy Probert
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