Wiberg masters downhill but may be hurt

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World Cup veteran Pernilla Wiberg tamed a merciless downhill run in St Moritz today to collect her first victory of the season. But the effort may have done more damage than good.

World Cup veteran Pernilla Wiberg tamed a merciless downhill run in St Moritz today to collect her first victory of the season. But the effort may have done more damage than good.

In a downhill pockmarked by crashes and incompletions, the 29-year-old Swede mastered the 2,780-meter Corviglia course in 1 minute, 12.57 seconds to collect only the second World Cup downhill victory of her career.

But a heavy landing on one of the course's jumps reawakened an old knee injury, already aggravated by a crash during a super-G in Lake Louise earlier this season.

"I went off the jump, flew a bit far and landed on the flat part of the course," explained Wiberg, who collected her 24th career World Cup victory. "The impact on a landing like that is much worse than on a slope.

"I felt it when I landed," added Wiberg, who's had surgery on her left knee eight times before. "It hurts but I'm hoping it isn't too bad. I think it was pretty crushed in there already."

Wiberg, who decided to skip the slalom events this year because of the pain it causes, was unsure whether she would compete in Sunday's super-G.

"I'm pretty old," said Wiberg, an 11 year veteran of the World cup circuit and the 1997 overall World Cup winner. "I'm not going to take any risks with my knee."

The Swede plans to have her knee examined over Christmas and undergo surgery if necessary.

Reigning World Cup downhill champion Renate Goetschl of Austria was second in 1:12.79, climbing the podium for the first time this season.

The Austrian denied Germany's Hilde Gerg another runner-up finish.

Gerg, who missed victory in the Lake Louise downhill and in both super-Gs this season by a frustrating .10 or under, appeared poised for a fourth second-place, until Goetschl knocked her down a spot with her own brilliant run.

"I felt really comfortable with the back wind because I was able to learn from the other girls' mistakes," said Gerg. "I'm not disappointed with third place.

"I was pretty sure Pernilla could win today because in yesterday's downhill she only lost time in the top part."

Fortunately for Wiberg, the start of Saturday's downhill was lowered to the top of the super-G run as driving winds swept over the summit of the Corviglia course.

But if high winds drove across the upper part of the course, ill winds blew across the lower part.

Only two racers among the first six made it to the bottom, with four skiers either missing gates or ending up in the safety netting.

Six of the first 11 went out.

The race was interrupted for nearly half an hour when Norway's Kristine Kristiansen lost control of her skis, crashed onto her side and careened wildly into the catch-nets.

The Norwegian, who tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in her left knee and fractured her wrist, was taken away by rescue sled before being heli-ported to the Gut Clinic in St Moritz.

Austria's Marianne Salchinger also had an ugly accident which left her with a distortion of the cervical spine. The injury, however, was not too serious according to doctors, who gave her the green light to compete in Sunday's super-G.

Casualties decreased as the race went on, as the elite downhillers began to come down, and messages trickled in via walky-talky warning skiers that the course was unforgiving.

The artificial jump on the newly-reconfigured course had claimed a victim of note during training two days before, when the World Cup's newest darling Janica Kostelic crash-landed, suffering multiple torn ligaments, which ended her season.

The 17-year-old Croatian underwent surgery on her knee in a hospital in Basel on Saturday but the success of the operation was still unknown.

"The girls need to train more jumps," said Wiberg, whose other downhill victory dates back to the World Cup finals in Vail in 1997. "They tend to train for turns a lot, but they need to train everything: turns and flats and jumps."

Italy's Isolde Kostner, the winner of the season's two other downhills, finished a disappointing seventh, ending hopes of a double at St Moritz after winning Friday's downhill.

But her result was enough to vault her into the lead of the overall and downhill World Cup standings with 455 and 235 points respectively.

Results from St Moritz

1, Pernilla Wiberg, Sweden, 1:12.57.2, Renate Goetschl, Austria, 1:12.79.3, Hilde Gerg, Germany, 1:12.88.4, Tanja Schneider, Austria, 1:13.03.5, Melanie Turgeon, Canada, 1:13.04.6, Regine Cavagnoud, France, 1:13.26.7, Isolde Kostner, Italy, 1:13.33.8, Regina Haeusl, Germany, 1:13.38.9, Lucia Recchia, Italy, 1:13.43.10, Michaela Dorfmeister, Austria, 1:13.46.