February 27, 2006

Austria steal the headlines

By Clare Fallon

SESTRIERE, Italy (Reuters) - Double gold medallists
Benjamin Raich and Michaela Dorfmeister led the way as Austria
dominated the slopes in the Alpine skiing at the Turin Games.

American Bode Miller and Croatian Janica Kostelic had been
expected to be the big stories of the ski events. They were,
but for the wrong reasons.

Miller made more headlines for his attitude than for his
results. After frequenting the bars and discotheques of
Sestriere late into the night, the overall World Cup champion
failed to finish three of his five events.

In the two he finished, downhill and giant slalom, he
placed fifth and sixth respectively. It was just as well,
perhaps, that Miller, who otherwise avoided journalists, told
an Italian newspaper early in the Games that he did not care
about medals.

Kostelic's health problems led to almost daily medical
bulletins from the Croatian team and constant speculation about
whether she would appear at the starting huts.

The triple champion from the last Games pulled out of the
downhill and the giant slalom, citing first a high pulse rate
and then exhaustion and a fever.

Kostelic has suffered fluctuating health since having her
thyroid gland removed two years ago. She still won the combined
gold -- a record career fourth Olympic title -- and the super-G
silver but by her own high standards the tally was small.

The overall World Cup leader looked drawn and unhappy for
much of the Games but she beamed with joy when brother Ivica
won his first Olympic medal, silver in the combined.

Just half-an-hour before Janica's combined success,
Norway's Kjetil Andre Aamodt became the first man to win four
career golds in the sport when he triumphed in the super-G at
the age of 34.

The Austrians were the dominant force, however, winning 14
of the 30 medals on offer. Dorfmeister, already a multiple
World Cup winner and a former world champion, began her final
Games bemoaning the fact that an Olympic gold had always eluded

She goes into retirement with not one but two golds, having
blitzed the opposition in the downhill and super-G.


Raich became the first man since Italy's Alberto Tomba in
1988 to win both technical events, leading an Austrian clean
sweep in the slalom.

It was only the third time in Olympic history that a nation
had taken all the podium places. Austria's giant slalom racers,
led by Toni Sailer, achieved the feat in 1956 and Norway, with
Aamodt in silver position, did it in the combined in
Lillehammer in 1994.

Sweden's Anja Paerson, last season's overall World Cup
winner, collected slalom gold and bronzes in downhill and
combined but was outshone in the giant slalom by unheralded
team mate Anna Ottosson, who took the bronze.

Julia Mancuso won gold in that event, going some way to
make up for the American team's disappointment over speed
specialist Lindsey Kildow, who crashed in downhill training
early in the Games and failed to win a medal.

For the American men, disappointed in Miller and in Daron
Rahlves, who failed to live up to his billing as a medal
certainty in the speed events, Ted Ligety restored some pride
with a surprise gold in the combined.

Tanja Poutiainen became Finland's first Olympic medallist
in the sport with silver in the giant slalom.

France's 2002 winners had a disappointing Games. Downhill
defending champion Carole Montillet-Carles crashed in training,
then skied to a brave fifth place in the super-G despite a
broken rib.

Jean-Pierre Vidal fell and broke his arm in training the
day before he was to defend his Olympic slalom title.

Hosts Italy, whose big hope Giorgio Rocca fell in the
slalom, finished the Games without a single Alpine medal.