Kernen heads Swiss sweep

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The Independent Online

Swiss skiers swept the podium at the World Cup event in Veysonnaz, Switzerland, yesterday, banishing the disappointment of a two-year barren patch in the men's downhill. Bruno Kernen came from nowhere to clinch his first World Cup victory, ahead of three other Swiss team-mates.

The 23-year-old Swiss beat William Besse by one hundredth of a second in 2min 3.14sec on an ice-packed 3,500m course. Third place was clinched by Daniel Mahrer in 2:03.39, and Xavier Gigandet took fourth in 2:03.60.

It was the first top-four victory in World Cup skiing since a 1990 giant slalom in Alta Badia won by four Austrians, and the first for the Swiss since 1987 in Mount Allen. Coincidentally, Mahrer also came third then.

It will, however, have little impact on the World Cup standings. Norway's Lasse Kjus still leads overall with 956 points despite his injury at Kitzbuhel. In second place is Michael von Grunigen of Switzerland with 690, and the Italian Alberto Tomba lies third with 616 points.

The young Swiss, who was not even picked for the team at the start of the season, made the best time in test runs and kept his form for the race, carving a faultless run down the renowned Bear Course.

"Actually I only wanted to be the best Swiss," he admitted. "I knew I was going at the end and I knew I had to take many risks. I took a very direct route and it worked."

Kernen came 10th at Kitzbuhel and his previous best downhill results were two fifth positions here in Veysonnaz and in Kvitfjell in 1993.

Besse, the downhill winner in Wengen, Switzerland, and in Vail, Colorado, in 1994, thought he had clinched victory when he recorded 2:03.15 to take the lead after 21 descents. He had a tense wait until Kernen, racing 30th, beat him by just a hundredth of a second.

Fifth place was taken by the Canadian Brian Stemmle, in 2:03.73. Kyle Rasmussen, of the United States, had his best run this season, finishing sixth with 2:03.83, 0.69 seconds behind the winning time.

The winner of last week's downhill at Kitzbuhel, Austria, Gunther Mader, came in 25th with 2:04.74. Luc Alphand, of France, the leader of the downhill World Cup standings, finished in a disappointing 22nd place, with 2:04.63.