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Von Grünigen Rules
Men's GS: Alta Badia, Italy
December 20, 1998

GS Podium GS Podium (left to right) 2nd place Patrick Holzer (ITA), 1st place Michael Von Grünigan (SWI), 3rd place Andreas Schifferer (AUT)
Switzerland's Michael von Grünigen celebrated his first win of the season in today's giant slalom in Alta Badia, Italy. The 1997 World Champion made an impressive comeback after a modest season-start, rediscovering his momentum and power on the treacherous and icy "Gran Risa" course where he won three years ago.

Clocking the fastest time in the second run, he beat Italy's Patrick Holzer, who was the fastest in the first leg by 76/100 of a second. Austria's downhill specialist Andreas Schifferer was 25/100 behind the winner in third place.

Hermann Maier (AUT), 3rd here last year, was 4th, his worst finish in GS in a long time. Christian Mayer, who won here in 1997, was 6th and teammate Stephan Eberharter missed a gate in the second run but still leads the GS World Cup standings.

Italy's slalom strongman Giorgio Rocca confirmed his talent in giant slalom too with 9th place despite his start number of 60. America's Thomas Vonn, 22nd, won the North American battle by beating Canada's Thomas Grandi, 23rd, by 20/100.

Von Grünigen, only 5th in Sölden, Austria and 10th in Park City, UT, was able to control the challenging race conditions to reach his 15th World Cup success. Only Sweden's superstar Ingemar Stenmark, with 46 wins, has clinched more GS races than Von Grünigan.

It was a great day for Switzerland which celebrated a "double" win Sunday. Karin Roten also had a strong comeback in the women's slalom in Veysonnaz, Switzerland after a disappointing 1997/98 season.

The 29-year-old Von Grünigen from Schoenried near Gstaad, had a tough time this fall after injuring his left ankle while playing basketball during dry-land training camp. He was out for seven weeks before being able to ski again.

"The race conditions were ideal for me since I appreciate difficult and demanding slopes," said Von Grünigen after the race. "On such a hard course, it's important to find the best combination between power and technique. I was happy to start with bib number one and the course was in perfect shape. The organizers have done a fantastic job here. I can't remember to have skied on such a hard snow cover in the past years. I can imagine how difficult this competition must have been for the competitors who already raced in Val Gardena."

Von Grünigan, who is in his tenth World Cup season, worked hard after the slalom in Aspen to find back his best form. His experience and mental strength helped him to remain confident before this race.

"I knew that I could return to the top with a couple of weeks of intense training," he explained. "The season is still long but now I can face it with a great moral."

Also present in the finish line were his wife Ana and his two sons, Noel, 3, and Elio, born last Spring. "It's really nice to have them near me when I compete— I'm very motivated when they are around."

Von Grünigan's teammate Patrick Holzer, who grew up one hour drive from Alta Badia in Sesto Pusteria, was also charged as he raced in front of hundreds of Italian fans.

"This was a perfect race for me," said Holzer, who was able to confirm his potential with this win. The 28-year-old athlete, who changed his ski supplier last summer, had the best time in the first run and was faster than top-experts Hermann Maier and Kjetil Aamodt (NOR) in the second run. This is the first time in his seven World Cup seasons that Holzer has reached the podium in giant slalom.

"I took a lot of risks during my first run, but I must say that I was more cautious during my second run," he said.

Andreas Schifferer was the only happy Austrian after the race. Schifferer, the 1998 World Cup downhill champion and GS bronze medal winner at the 1997 World Championships in Sestriere, broke his leg while training in New Zealand this past summer and was forced to rest for several weeks before the season started.

"I didn't expect to come back so quickly," said the 24-year-old math student from south of Salzburg. "I found back some good feeling in both downhills in Val Gardena, but I'm surprised by my race on this tough course. For sure I was quite relaxed today after the demanding four days on the downhill course. It takes a lot of energy to face all the dangers in downhill. This GS race is quite cool compared to the Saslong piste in Val Gardena."

Hermann Maier gave his best but did not possess enough energy to attack with his usual power. "Our skis request much strength, you have to fight in each turn to push them in front of you and I was too tired today to get the best out of them," said the double Olympic champion. "I'm really disappointed because this is a great race which I wish to win once. I wonder in which condition I'll be tomorrow before the super-G at Innsbruck."

Maier, the defending overall World Cup champion, aims to remain unbeaten this year in Austria. His success in Val d'Isère a week ago shows that he remains the man to beat in super-G.

—Mountain Zone European Correspondent

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