Lasse Kjus, who leads the men's overall alpine World Cup standings, will miss this weekend's races after suffering severe concussion in a fall in downhill practice at Kitzbuhel, Austria yesterday.
Kjus, who will celebrate his 25th birthday on Sunday, crashed while negotiating the final turn before the finish line on the famous Streif course, which had patches of ice on it.
The Norwegian, who holds the world and Olympic combined titles, lost his balance in the turn and careered into a fence. The accident left him unconscious for a few minutes before he was lifted from the course by helicopter and taken to a nearby hospital. Kjus was badly shaken, and suffered bruising to his face, hips and thighs.
Norwegian team officials said he would definitely not race in the back- to-back downhills scheduled for tomorrow and Saturday, and would also miss Sunday's slalom.
Doctors will monitor his condition throughout the night and decide today whether he will be fit enough to take part in next weekend's races in Veysonnaz, Switzerland, where there will be two more downhills and a slalom.
Kitzbuhel and Veysonnaz will also feature the season's only two combined events, in which Kjus would expect to score heavily. If he was to miss all six races and therefore be unable to pick up points in the two combined events, his considerable 366-point lead over Switzerland's Michael von Grunigen at the top of the overall standings could be wiped out.
Conditions on the course were described as treacherous after freezing weather turned part of the run into sheets of ice. In all, five skiers came to grief, including the Austrians Andreas Schifferer and Josef Strobl, who, like Kjus, both had to be taken to hospital for medical checks.
Of those who survived the rigours of the training run, Gunther Mader, also of Austria, recorded the fastest time, 1min 58.85sec. Second fastest was Peter Runggaldier, of Italy, with 1:59.28, and Kjus's Norwegian team- mate, Atle Skaardal, came through with the third-best time in 1:59.68.
Britain's Graham Bell was the 11th fastest.Reuse content