Skiing: Mader makes a virtue of being different: Austrian stakes claim for high profile at Olympics as Norwegians mourn death of coach

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The Independent Online
OPTING for a route shunned by the skiers who went before him brought success in yesterday's super-giant slalom for Gunther Mader, the Austrian veteran whose years of quietly paying his dues on the World Cup circuit have been rewarded since the start of this season. With the Lillehammer Olympics on the horizon, the good- natured 29-year-old is making a strong case for skiing more than one discipline for the Austrian team at the February Games.

Mader chose the path of least resistance yesterday as he won the opening super-giant of the season in a time of 1min 28.25sec. He headed the Norwegian Olympic champion, Kjetil Aamodt, whose race was perhaps influenced by the sudden death on Saturday of one the Olympic host nation's senior trainers.

Ales Gartner, 45, was one of a handful of coaching imports who had helped to convert Norway from a mainly cross-country skiing nation into an Alpine powerhouse in the space of five or six years. He died after suffering a heart attack in Switzerland. 'He was a great coach to us,' a sad and subdued Aamodt said. 'Perhaps we can dedicate this race to him.'

Mader said he chose a race line which few before his No 28 start had utilized. 'There were no bumps made by the other skis,' he said. 'I had a 99 percent effort today with just one mistake. Quite frankly though, this race and these snow conditions produced a lottery, anyone from 1 to 50 could have won.' That was aptly illustrated by Mader himself knocking the No 5 starter, Aamodt, from the leading spot.

Norwegians claimed three of the top six positions, but it was an American, Tommy Moe, who earned the final place on the podium in third place. He clocked 1:28.61 to Aamodt's 1:28.42. Jan Thorsen, fourth, and the downhiller Atle Skaardal, sixth, completed the Norwegians' attacking effort on a sad day.

Staging the super-giant turned into something of a triumph for hard-pressed organisers, who had to watch in dismay as Saturday's first downhill of the men's season was blown away in 70kmh gusts of wind and driving snow. The weather in this former Olympic resort has been unpredictable, with brilliantly sunny days like yesterday alternating with the worst that winter can offer. Fingers will be crossed for today's giant slalom. The race was cancelled last weekend in Stoneham, Canada, because of fog.

Only a year ago, the International Ski Federation, in the spirit of reform and trying to please the television companies, ruled that Monday racing was not on, and furthermore, that any race cancelled by weather would not be made up. Both of those dictates appear to have been happily abandoned.

Britons, quite used to poor weather, simply strapped on their skis and raced, although without much success. Martin Bell finished 49th in 1:30.41, 2.16sec slower than Mader, and his brother Graham clocked 1:30.89 for 59th.

Mader's second victory of the year after a giant slalom triumph two weeks ago in Utah, leaves him in command of the season table on 316 points. Aamodt stands second with 285. Thanks to the weather, Val Gardena, Italy, will host a second downhill on Friday to precede its regular Saturday event. Officials on the World Cup have always been adept at making their own rules as they go along. They are happy to believe in the assurances of the prestige Italian venue, one of the coldest on the circuit, that all will be right on the day with the local weather gods.

Pernilla Wiberg shrugged off a tumble during the gaint slalom on Saturday to win the women's World Cup slalom at Veysonnaz, Switzerland, yesterday. The Olympic giant slalom champion overhauled Italy's Morena Gallizio on the 52-gate second leg, returning a combined time of 1min 26.16sec. Gallizio has to be content with second place, 0.78sec behind Wiberg.

Results, Sporting Digest, page 31

(Photograph omitted)