BEAVER CREEK, Colorado (Reuters) - Expectations always soar for Austrian teams competing at the elite level but even alpine skiing great Franz Klammer has been taken aback by their early medal haul at the Beaver Creek world championships.
The mighty Austrians have already piled up seven medals, including four golds, from the first seven events and more are expected from their men and women in the giant slalom and slalom over the next three days.
Competing on U.S. snow well away from home has been “a little advantage” says Klammer, whose only concern for his country’s skiers in the years to come is the lack of proficient technical racers following in Marcel Hirscher’s footsteps.
“We always expect medals but we didn’t expect that we would be running so well at this point,” a smiling Klammer, considered one of the best downhill skiers of all time, told Reuters before the women’s giant slalom at Beaver Creek on Thursday.
“Our team was well prepared and we have good guys. We have winners on the team and that’s all that matters. So with Anna Fenninger, with Marcel Hirscher, with Hannes Reichelt, the whole team gets a boost from these guys.”
Fenninger won gold in the women’s Super-G at Beaver Creek and then silver in the downhill while Reichelt, who missed the 2014 Sochi Olympics because of back problems, landed his first ever world championship gold medal in the men’s Super-G.
Hirscher, overall World Cup champion for the past three years, won the men’s super combined at Beaver Creek and was part of the Austrian team that won the 16-nation event. He still has his specialist events, the giant slalom and slalom, to come.
After the Austrian men failed to win a medal in the speed disciplines at the 2013 world championships on home snow in Schladming, Klammer believes they have benefited this year from racing elsewhere.
“It’s always difficult, competing at home,” said Klammer, whose gravity-defying romp to gold at the 1976 Olympics in Innsbruck is regarded as one of the greatest ski runs of all time.
”At Innsbruck, I was the only one who could win from the Austrian team so I had to win! The pressure was on. Actually I liked to have pressure and then I would get much better under pressure.
“This Austrian team is well prepared but it’s easier to perform abroad because at home you have the crowds, more media commitments and you get distracted too easily. Here nobody is really paying attention ... and that’s a little advantage.”
Although the Austrian men were surprisingly shut out of the medals in the downhill at Beaver Creek on Saturday, Klammer is more concerned with his country’s long-term prospects in the giant slalom and slalom.
“We don’t have 10 guys now but we have about five or six really good downhillers, good speed skiers,” said Klammer, who won the overall World Cup downhill title a record five times.
“We have a much stronger speed team than a technical team. We are really lacking young kids, the youngsters are not really pushing and coming up behind Marcel, so I am afraid that we will have some lean years ahead of us.”
Editing by Frank Pingue