Skiing: Time closesin on piste: Bill Scott reports from Morioka, Japan, on a race against the clock at the world skiing championships

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The Independent Online
AS THE schedule starts to tighten, the world championships are feeling the pinch of too few days and too many races. From this morning seven medal events need to be completed by Sunday's closing ceremonies. Two of the races are downhills, where one gust of wind or a few centimetres of extra snow on the course can spell the difference between racing and waiting.

International Ski Federation officials are taking the heat as the unpredictable weather at the Shizukuishi resort lives up to its notorious reputation. Hints are appearing in the Swiss press of alleged deals between the Swiss- based International Ski Federation and the Japanese who brought the sport's second most important event to a place renowned for bad weather.

By comparison with the men, the women can relax after completing two of their five scheduled races in 'just' seven days. Austrians took gold and bronze through Karin Buder and Elfi Eder in yesterday's slalom. They were split by the American Julie Parisien, who put in a hard-charging second run.

But it was another day of disaster for the men, with high winds on the Mount Kotakakura track. After Norway's Kjetil-Andre Aamodt - already a silver medalist from the men's combined on Monday - put himself into the leading position from the first giant slalom run, sudden gusts decreed that the competition could not be concluded.

The turn of events left officials in a panic. At a heated captains' meeting last night, an obscure rule was found dictating that if the conclusive leg could be finished within 24 hours of the start of the first leg, a race which normally would be wrapped up in one day could be declared valid.

The Italian team had unsuccessfully pleaded for a misrace because Alberto Tomba, suffering with the remains of a serious stomach virus, was not competing.

'Of course I'm annoyed,' the 26-year-old Olympic hero said. 'But there's not a lot that I can do about it.' All that remains for Tomba is to hope for the best in his last remaining race, the slalom - whenever it is staged.

The FIS has been adamant about defending the choice, made five years ago, of Morioka- Shizukuish, 550km north of Tokyo. 'Asia is an important market for the ski sport. If I had to vote, I would choose it,' the general secretary of the FIS, Gianfranco Kasper, said when rain washed out two days of racing at the weekend.