Skiing: Heinzer back to his best

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FRANZ HEINZER, the world champion, shook off a disappointing start to the season to win a spectacular downhill in the toughest conditions at Garmisch in Germany yesterday.

A thin, patchy covering of snow on an icy piste made the already imposing Kandahar course much more difficult, and there were three dramatic tumbles, the worst of which produced a broken nose for the German Martin Fiala. And even Heinzer admitted it had not been fun. 'After 12 years on the circuit I have to admit it was one of the toughest races of my career,' he said.

The little-known Pietro Vitalini, of Italy, nearly pulled off a major shock, finishing just two hundredths of a second behind Heinzer. Marc Girardelli strengthened his claim to be regarded as the best all-round skier by claiming fifth place to take the combined event, which includes Saturday's slalom, and regain the lead in the overall World Cup standings.

Carole Merle continued her good form in the women's World Cup, winning her second giant slalom in five days at Cortina d'Ampezzo in Italy - the 20th win of her career. Merle, who was second in the World Cup last year, holds the same position now, behind the Austrian, Anita Wachter, who was second yesterday.

The famous Hahnenkamm downhill at Kitzbuhel is unlikely to go ahead on Saturday because of poor snow conditions. A substitute race is expected to be staged at St Anton. Kitzbuhel will stage its slalom on Sunday. A final decision will be made today, when another downhill, postponed from Val d'Isere, will be held at Garmisch.