Austria's men fail to medal

28 February 2010 03:55

The Austrian men ski team has failed to put an athlete on the podium at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games. It was the country's worst alpine showing since the Garmisch-Partenkirchen Games in 1936, when alpine skiing was first introduced at the Winter Olympics. Back then, with only three disciplines, no Austrians made it on to the podium.

Saturday was the penultimate day of the Vancouver Games for the Austrian quartet of Reinfried Herbst, Marcel Hirscher, Manfred Pranger and Benjamin Raich to live up to expectations. The Austrian skiers entered the two-leg slalom race as clear favorites but at the end of the day other nations stood on the podium.

Slalom champion from Turin, Raich ended up just out of the medals in fourth after his sixth place finish in the giant slalom event in Whistler.

"That's very disappointing for our team but we have to handle it. It's not easy," said defending Olympic champion and current leader of the overall World Cup Benjamin Raich. "We will go over things afterwards - in March. There is no point in doing so right now," the veteran skier said as the most successful of the men's team in Whistler.

"I have never known us to be so off beam. It's a low point, if not the low point in my coaching career," Austrian coach Toni Giger said.

The ‘Wunderteam' most recently hit a zenith in the 2006 Torino Games, when all but one alpine podium had at least one Austrian athlete, and where the men's team swept the slalom podium. The Austrians took home 14 of the available 30 medals in the alpine events. Four years later, the Austrians only claim four alpine medals, all earned by the ladies' team.

The Austrian men had a very successful World Cup season as they are better set up for the World Cup than for Olympic competition. While the World Cup allows up to ten racers per team, only four skiers can be entered at the Olympics. If the best athletes fail to podium in the World Cup, there is still a sufficient number of racers who can step in as Austria has a large pool of talented skiers. Olympic competition negates that advantage.

"It's hard to say (why the team have failed). We have trained very well and we were prepared, so that was not the problem. It was close," Raich said. "Normally the Austrian (men's) team always has a medal but this year it was impossible to win one. It's hard but we have to accept it.

Fortunately, the ladies collected four medals including Andrea Fischbacher's gold in the ladies' super-G. Elisabeth Goergl was able to step on the podium twice claiming bronze medals in both downhill and giant slalom, while Marlies Schild captured her third career Olympic medal taking silver in the slalom.

Austria is going through a rebuilding process following the recent retirements of legends Hermann Maier and Stephen Eberharter. The team has also suffered a raft of untimely injuries just before the Games.

Regardless, it is the first time in nearly 75 years that the alpine powerhouse has performed so poorly.

After failing to land a podium in the men's Alpine events and with the Austrians taking alpine skiing very seriously, Austrian newspapers were quick with criticism of the men's team. This made things even more difficult for the Austrians.

Raich, who is usually rock solid and does not make mistakes, hooked his hand on a gate in the giant slalom, losing time, eventually finishing sixth.

Surely, he and his team will face tough questions when they return home.