Men's Slalom: Schladming, AUT
January 8, 1999
Benjamin Raich seems to always be on the run: the 20-year-young Austrian has won his first World Cup race in front of over 25,000 enthusiastic spectators. The Tyrolian from Pitztal who is only in his first World Cup season after clinching five gold medal in the recent junior World Championships beat by 12/100 of a second France's Pierrick Bourgeat, the winner in Park City, and by 29/100 Norway's Kjetil Aamodt.
Toni Sailer, who was also only 20 when he clinched three gold medal at the 1956 Olympic Games in Cortina d'Ampezzo, was himself impressed by this demonstration. "I must say that this could be the best slalom skiing I have ever seen," the legendary Sailer said. "Raich is not only a great talent but also a fighter who is not afraid to take a maximum of risks on course".
The 1994 overall World Cup champion has reached his first spot on the podium after having collected numerous places from 4th to 10th in previous competitions.
Marin Hansson from Sweden conquered his season's best position in finishing 4th in front of Slovenia's Jure Kosir, the winner in Kranjska Gora on Wednesday and the fastest man in the first leg.
Kalle Palander from Finland reached a career best 6th place at 51/100 in front of the 1998 Olympic champion Hans Petter Buraas. It was a bad night for Thomas Stangassinger, 2nd in the fist run at only 6/100 from Kosir, but the Austrian veteran straddled a gate on his way down the damaged second run after clocking the fastest intermediate time. His colleague Christian Mayer also skied out at the end of that leg.
Italy's Giorgio Rocca, 3rd at 19/100 in the first run, was also very fast at mid-course before making several mistakes. He had to be content with a far 16th place instead of celebrating his first victory but he did show that he has the talent and the determination to win a race.
Benjamin Raich is a very driven competitor who trained hard in his younger years to reach the summit in his sport. It seems almost natural to him to celebrate his first World Cup success after coming 4th and 3rd in the two technical events held in Kranjska Gora on Tuesday and Wednesday. Once more he made the best out of the situation when he started in the second leg after a rather slow first run. Only 23rd earlier in the evening with a delay of 1.29 second on Kosir, he was the eighth skier on the slope afterwards which allowed him to rush down a well maintained course. Feeling no pressure after his good results in Slovenia, Benjamin was definitely very motivated, and he gave his best from the first to the last gate to achieve an almost perfect run.
As in Kranjska Gora where he went from 15th to 3rd place, Raich had to wait a long time at the finish line before knowing his final position. "It's hard but I start to get used to it," he said with a smile. "It's tough to watch the other come down the mountain, yet exciting when they were slower."
And as the race went on, he kept on leading the standings as the other skiers faced more difficult racing conditions. And after a while there were only three skiers at the start - Rocca, Stangassinger and Kosir who were only separated by a few hundredths of a second after the first run.
The pressure was tough on them and they couldn't handle it. The Italian who had half a second advance on Raich at the intermediate time, made great mistakes afterwards. The Austrian, on the podium in the last three slalom races, took a gate between his leg after mid-course and the Slovenian lost his rhythm on the bumpy final part.
"I can't believe it, this is crazy," said Raich while the crowd was shouting around him. "I never thought about winning this race today, it's a wonderful moment and I want to thank all the people who supported me this night and those who helped me to be here."
"I always believed in my chances to win once a World Cup race," he said later on at the press conference, "but not so early. Things went on really fast for me this season."
In fact even if he is not the younger World Cup winner - Italy's Piero Gros was only 18 when he won a GS race at Val d'Isère and 20 when he captured the Overall World Cup title in 1974 as Sweden's Ingemar Stenmark in 1976- Raich is moving on the steps of these great ski heroes from the past. Ironically Ingemar was only 22 in December 1974 in the first slalom run in Madonna di Campiglio before a great comeback in the second run. Later on, he won 85 other World Cup races as well as five gold medals at Olympics and World Championships. In December 1973, the great Franz Klammer was also 20 when he won his first downhill ever on the same course before becoming the best downhiller in the history of modern ski racing.
Another superstar may well have raised again here in Schladming.
The next men's event, a Super-G, will take place here on Saturday. In the meantime, the women will compete in Germany's Berchtesgaden in a slalom and a giant slalom.
Mountain Zone European Ski Correspondent
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