Season to forget as skiers draw a blank
The Swiss alpine ski team has recorded its worst overall result since 1966, failing to register a solitary victory during the World Cup season.
Even the team’s coach says the problems affecting the once-mighty Swiss are so deep rooted that it could take years for them to climb back to the top.
The disastrous results have already claimed one victim. Marie-Theres Nadig, the head of the women’s team, was given the push by the Swiss Ski Federation at the end of last week.
It is almost 40 years since the Swiss endured such a barren season. The last time the country’s skiers drew a blank was in 1966, when the world championships were held in Chile.
But this year, the Swiss equalled this dismal record, with no podium finishes at the championships in Bormio, Italy, and no wins on the World Cup circuit.
The results saw the Swiss team end the season in fourth position behind Austria, the United States and Italy.
This was mostly down to the performances of the men, who made it onto the podium on eight occasions.
Fifth place was the pinnacle of the women’s achievements in 32 races, with Sonja Nef twice managing the feat.
But this was not enough to save Nadig, who was axed by Gian Gilli, the head of competition at Swiss Ski.
"It’s not her competence that is being questioned here," said Gilli, who handed the former Olympic champion her job 12 months ago. "She is simply the victim of a lack of results."
Whoever takes over from Nadig – who remains an employee of the federation – faces a huge task. The women’s team is said to be shell-shocked, and the possible retirement of some of its leading lights could further weaken it.
Sonja Nef, Marlies Oester and Sylviane Berthod are seriously considering turning their backs on the sport. Whether they stay or leave will depend – at least partially – on who gets the job of team boss.
Only Nadia Styger and Fränzi Aufdenblatten are considered good enough to step up next season, but the extra pressure may be too much given their inconsistent performances this year.
"We need to give some kind of impetus to the team, to give it some spirit," admitted Gilli. "It will probably take three to five years before we are successful again."
The men’s results were a little more heartening, even though there were no victories to celebrate.
With team leader Didier Cuche falling by the wayside in January owing to a season-ending knee injury, it was up to another Didier – Défago – to take on his mantle.
Défago rose to the challenge with two second places and a third place. He almost claimed victory in the Super-G in Garmisch, finishing just one hundredth of a second behind Austria’s Christoph Gruber.
"This was my best season so far, with sixth place overall in the World Cup," Défago told the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper. "I’m also in the top group in three disciplines, which is far more than I expected at the beginning of the season."
But the rest of the men’s team were less successful and will need to be more consistent to make an impact.
Marc Berthod, one of Swiss skiing’s big hopes, managed a seventh-place finish in a giant slalom. This was enough to qualify him for the world championships, but he was eliminated from the other seven events in which he took part.
Défago reckons the Swiss team can climb back up the rankings, but cautions fans not expect wins straightaway.
"We have to raise our results to a consistent level before we can progress again," he said. "You have to take things step by step and, for that, you have to be patient."
swissinfo, Raphael Donzel
Didier Défago (6th) and Sonja Nef (24th) were the highest ranked Swiss in this year's World Cup.
12 other Swiss men and 10 women also scored points.
Switzerland finished fourth in the Nations Cup.
The world’s best five women skiers – Anja Paerson, Janica Kostelic, Renate Goetschl, Michaela Dorfmeister and Tanja Poutianen – each scored more points than the entire Swiss women’s team.
The last time Switzerland failed to win a World Cup race was during the 1966/1967 season.
This year’s best results were two second places for Didier Défago and one each for Didier Cuche, Silvan Zurbriggen and Jürg Grünenfelder.
The best results for the women were Sonja Nef’s two fifth places in slalom and giant slalom events.
The Swiss failed to record a single podium finish at the world championships in Bormio.
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