Switzerland's Nef wins giant slalom at worlds
Updated: Friday February 09, 2001 11:31 AM
ST. ANTON, Austria (AP) -- Sonja Nef gave Switzerland its second gold medal in as many days, winning the women's giant slalom Friday at the World Championship.
A day after her compatriot Michael von Gruenigen won the men's title at the cost of home favorite and Olympic champion Hermann Maier, Nef delivered a second blow to the host nation, clinching the gold in two minutes 19.01 seconds, a whopping 1.10 seconds faster than her nearest challenger, Karen Putzer of Italy.
Putzer, who took the bronze in the combined event, improved to silver, finishing runner-up in 2:20.11, ahead of Sweden's Anja Paerson, the newly-crowned slalom champion, who was third in 2:20.52.
Switzerland's Lilian Kummer was the major surprise of the day. A lowly 15th after the opening leg and first to start in the final trip down, Kummer's time of 2:21.30 stood until the final three skiers. Kummer finished fourth in 2:21.30.
Austrian stars Renate Goetschl and Michaela Dorfmeister, the reigning giant slalom World Cup champion and the winner of Tuesday's downhill both disappointed.
Dorfmeister, who has one giant slalom victory this season and one third place, finished out of the top five, while Goetschl, fourth after the opening leg, skidded off course midway through her second effort.
Defending champion Alexandra Meissnitzer, another Austrian hopeful, also went out in the second leg.
Croatian sensation Janica Kostelic gave up her last chance at gold, the current overall World Cup leader choosing not to start. Kostelic, who won all seven of this year's slaloms, had fallen in the combined slalom event, straining her thigh.
Though failing to clinch a medal in the combined and the slalom, her strongest event, the Croatian decided against racing the giant slalom, hoping to avoid re-injury and damaging her World Cup chances.
It was a disappointing day for Austrian veteran Anita Wachter. In the final major international competition of her career, the multi-Olympic and world medalist, who was seeking her first career gold medal in the giant slalom, crashed out midway down in the opening leg.
The Swiss victory was a double blow to the Austrians after von Gruenigen finally reclaimed the status as the No. 1 giant slalom skier, beating the man who had usurped him as World Cup champion in the discipline the year before.
It's been a fierce battle between the two all year.
Between them, Maier -- who finished fourth on Thursday, a mere 0.01 behind bronze medalist Frederic Covili -- and von Gruenigen won six of the seven World Cup giant slaloms this season. The only man who managed to beat them was another Austrian, Christoph Gruber.
Von Gruenigen, never once finishing lower than fourth this season, was eager to regain dominance in a discipline Maier had taken over last year.
After almost quitting ski racing last year, the victory made von Gruenigen's decision to continue all the more sweet. The 31-year-old veteran almost gave up after poor results last season, but changed his mind after deciding to switch equipment in May.
But if von Gruenigen's victory was validation of his decision to stay, it was a catastrophe for Maier.
The race marked Maier's last chance at a world championship gold medal on home snow, and his fourth place finish, in what should have been his strongest suit, left Austrian ski fans disheartened. The defeat was further compounded by Maier's failure to defend his two world titles in the super-G and the downhill.
Though they lead the medal table, the Austrians have won just two gold medals at this championship compared to five at the last worlds in Vail, Colorado in 1999.
In Vail, Maier had won two golds, and the Austrian women had two sweeps of the podium for a total of nine-of-15 medals awarded.
Here, the Austrians have nine medals so far with only the men's slalom left to run.