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Seizinger, Gerg and Compagnoni last year in Sölden, AUT
The Women’s World Cup tour kicks off this weekend with a giant slalom on the freshly snowed upon Retenbach Glacier in Sölden, Austria. Absent though will be two of the circuit's main characters — American superstar Picabo Street, the reigning Super-G Olympic Champion and Germany’s defending Overall World Cup winner Katja Seizinger.

Street, who broke a femur and injured ligaments in her knee last March in a crash in Switzerland’s Crans-Montana, doesn’t plan to compete at all this season. She hopes to slowly recover from her second tough injury in less than two years in order to race again next year. She aims to be taking part in her third Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002. In February '99 she will act as special correspondent for NBC's television coverage of the World Championships.

Street is out for '99
Seizinger, the dominator last season with two Olympic gold medals and eight wins on the World Cup tour, seriously damaged ligaments in her knee while training this spring. She plans to ski again in December and come back some time in January.

Even without Katja, the German team aims to remain the driving force in women’s ski racing. Last winter, the team took all the World Cups except the Slalom trophy, which was taken by Sweden’s Ylva Nowen. The team has won more than a dozen events thanks to Seizinger, Slalom Olympic Champion Hilde Gerg and the GS specialist Martina Ertl.

Ertl, who has thus far been unable to clinch a gold medal in a major event, will try to take advantage of the absence of her teammate to become not only the team's leader, but that of the World Cup standings as well. Second in the final Overall Standings in 1996 and 1998 behind Katja, the tough Martina — who, when not skiing, is a German customs officer — was the only female skier last season to celebrate victories in several specialties.

Her skill allows her to fight for top positions in Super-G, Giant Slalom and Slalom. Injuries have prevented her from making a real shOwing in the downhill. Last winter she won five races and the Giant Slalom World Cup.

Her teammate Gerg, Austria’s Alexandra Meissnitzer and Sweden’s Pernilla Wiberg should be her toughest rivals for the Overall World Cup crown.

Wiberg, the 1997 Overall winner, plagued by a series of injuries, worked hard last summer to regain her shape. A year ago the five-time Gold medal winner, in both the Olympics and World Championships, broke up with her trainer/boyfriend which affected her momentum and she was not able to fight with her usual determination during the season. A torn ligament in September and a broken rib in January also slowed down her pace, but her talent still allowed her to win an Olympic silver medal in Downhill at Nagano.

Wiberg's hard training and her drive should propel her again into top positions. She is excited to race in the US, particularly in Vail, site of the 1999 World Championships, where she has won many races, including a Downhill in 1997.

Other top athletes, such as Italy’s Slalom and GS queen, the gracious Deborah Compagnoni, Nowen, Austria’s Renate Goetschl or USA’s Kristina Koznick have set other goals for themselves — wins in single races and high placements in the specialty World Cup standings, as well as medaling in Vail.

Soelden Austria
Sölden '97
Compagnoni, second to Seizinger in Sölden in October 1996, plans to retire at the end of this season. The only woman to have clinched three Olympic gold medals in Alpine Skiing (in 1992, '94 and '98) has also conquered titles in past World Championships (1996 and 1997). Plagued by a series of minor but painful injuries to her back, her knees and her foot, Deborah seems ready for a more relaxed life. Her fiancé is Alessandro Benetton, one of the top managers of the Benetton group and an excellent skier himself.

Goetschl has the guts to dominate the Downhill scene in the absence of Seizinger while Koznick wishes to confirm her excellent '97/'98 season. A first win in Sweden’s Are and a series of top-5 positions brought her to 2nd in the Slalom World Cup standings behind Nowen, but she crashed out in the Olympic race at Shiga Kogen. Right now, she is the only serious US medal contender at the coming World Championships.

The other teams, from France, Switzerland, Canada, Norway and Slovenia, will have a tough time dealing with these stronger groups but surprises are fortunately part of the normal life on the "White Circus."

After the races in Sölden, World Cup takes a three-week hiatus before picking up again in Utah’s Park City for two Giant Slalom and two Slalom races. After this, they stay for two more events in North America, at Aspen in Colorado and at Whistler/Blackcomb B.C.. The women will compete in Lake Louise, Alberta and Mammoth Mountain, CA. before flying back to Europe.

— from our Mountain Zone European Correspondent

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