February 23, 2006

Austrian Gottwald shines through

By Bill Barclay

PRAGELATO, Italy (Reuters) - Three men dominated the Nordic
combined programme at the Turin Olympics but pre-Games
favourites Hannu Manninen of Finland and Ronny Ackermann of
Germany were not among them.

Unheralded Austrian Felix Gottwald led the way with two
golds and a silver while Germany's Georg Hettich also collected
three medals and Norway's Magnus Moan took two from the two
individual events and team competition.

Gottwald, 30, won silver in the individual Gundersen on the
opening competition day of the Games which was won by Hettich
with Moan taking bronze.

Gottwald added a gold in Austria's team competition triumph
and struck gold again in the Large Hill 7.5-km sprint, ahead of
Moan and Hettich respectively.

"It is wonderful for a sportsman to train for years and
years and to get a gold medal," said Gottwald, who won three
bronzes at Salt Lake City four years ago.

The most dramatic event of the discipline, which is made up
of a ski jump followed by a cross-country race, was the team
competition when the German team threw away gold on the last
leg of the relay.

Jens Gaiser was the culprit with a 5-km time that was much
slower than his team mates, allowing Austria's Mario Stecher to
storm through to take the gold.

Manninen helped Finland to a bronze but it proved to be
their only medal from the three events.

In 2002 the Finns won all three Nordic combined golds but
Manninen's wait for an individual medal at a major
championships goes on, despite his having won 42 World Cup

Hampered by 'flu, he could manage only ninth in the
individual Gundersen and 12th in the Large Hill 7.5-km sprint.
Manninen said afterwards he was unlikely to take part in
another Olympics although he hopes to break his individual
medal jinx at next year's world championships in Sapporo.

His big rival Ackermann, the 2005 world champion in both
individual events, trailed in 18th and eighth.

Moan's medals were one of the few bright spots for Norway,
who pulled out of the team event due to an illness that ravaged
their cross-country squad during the entire Games.