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Second Victory for Raich
Men's Giant Slalom: Flachau, AUT
January 10, 1999

  • Men's Slalom: A star is born
  • Super-G: The Herminator's Third Win

    Benjamin Raich, AUT
    Four days after his first career win in the slalom at Schladming, Benjamin Raich surprised once again all the favorites in today's giant slalom raced in front of a huge crowd on the slopes of Flachau, the hometown of Hermann "The Herminator" Maier.

    Third after the first run, won by Switzerland's Michael von Gruenigen, the former junior World Champion took all risks in the second leg to beat the 1997 GS World Champion by 5/100 of a second and by 41/100 "The Herminator" who made the best out of this very difficult day.

    Michael Von Gruenigan Michael von Gruenigan, SUI
    Norway's Kjetil Aamodt again took 4th, at 34/100 from Maier in front of Hans Knauss, who set the second fastest time in the morning. Lasse Kjus from Norway and Sami Uotila crashed while fighting for place among the leaders. Cristiana Mayer, who celebrated his 27th birthday, came 20th at 2.76 seconds. He has been suffering, as has Rainer Salzgeber, with stomach trouble for three days. While von Gruenigen took the lead in the giant slalom World Cup standings, Maier reinforced his position at the top of the overall ranking. He leads now with 811 points, 208 more than Aamodt and 219 more than Kjus.

    There were two happy winners in the finish area surrounded by thousands of excited spectators - Raich who brought a tenth season's success to the Austrian team and Maier who achieved a superb comeback from 9th to 3rd place thanks to a reckless second run.

    Benjamin, who started in 23rd position in the first run, is the first skier after Alberto Tomba to be able to win in both technical specialties - and the first Austrian since the late Rudi Nierlich, a triple gold medal winner in 1989 and 1991 (who later died in a car accident near his home.) Yet no other skier since the flamboyant Piero Gros, an Italian who clinched the Olympic title in slalom in 1976, had such an amazing start on the World Cup tour. In December 1972, Gros, at only 18, won the very first World Cup race he entered, at Val d'Isère, where he started in 45th position. A week later, he again beat all the favorites in a slalom in Madonna di Campiglio. He was 20 in 1974 when he captured the overall World Cup title in front of his teammate Gustavo Thoeni, the best skier in the early 1970's.

    Raich, a five time junior World Champion from 1996 to 1998, is only racing in his first World Cup season this winter - and he already belongs to the elite. He is in 8th position in the overall standings after the Austrian races. He finished the last four technical events among the top-4 despite high startnumbers. Now he will aim for more gold medals at the coming ski World Championships in Vail where he will one of the youngest participants.

    His confidence and his calmness are as remarkable as his great talent and his determination. He didn't seem surprised after his newest win - quite an impressive one since it happened in a giant slalom, by far the most demanding event in alpine ski racing.

    He beat some of the specialists of the past years : von Gruenigen, Maier and Aamodt have all won gold medals and World Cup titles in that discipline yet Raich didn't overreact at the finish line.

    "I have dreamed of this - it's so exciting to race in front of such a great crowd" he said. "I didn't feel any pressure and I had no problems to ski the most aggressive way in both runs. It's an important win not so much because I beat Hermann Maier in his home race but because I have won my first giant slalom race. I hope now to compete also in this specialty at Vail."

    Nicknamed the "Blitz aus Pitz" by his fans (the lightning from Pitz) because he lives in the valley of Pitz in Tirol, Raich has the potential to dominate the technical events in future if he remains as relaxed and aggressive. The next giant slalom raced Tuesday on the technically demanding course at Adelboden will be an important test for him, but the favorite will be Michael von Gruenigen back in great shape after a disappointing 8th place at Kranjska Gora last week.

    The elegant World Champion was pleased by his result despite the small margin which separated him from the winner.

    "I was not aggressive enough in the first part of the second run," explained the Swiss leader who started with an advantage of half a second on Raich. "It's good to be back on the podium here. I like this slope a lot because you can ski with much rhythm here. I feel ready for Adelboden now."

    Mountain Zone European Ski Correspondent

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