Skiing: Unsung Assinger takes Stock

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ARMIN ASSINGER left a bevy of downhill luminaries, not to mention the doubts shrouding his career, trailing in the distance yesterday as he swept to a surprise victory in the men's World Cup super-giant slalom in Bad Kleinkirchheim, Austria.

The 28-year-old Austrian, who had never previously won a downhill event, edged out his veteran compatriot, Leonhard Stock, the 1980 Olympic downhill champion, by 0.21sec, conquering the testing Strohsack piste, with its 700-metre vertical drop and 57 gates, in 1min 45.60sec. Kejtil Andre Aamodt, the Olympic super-g champion, eased out his fellow Norwegian, Jan Einar Thorsen, by 100th of a second to take third place.

The main winner, though, was Luxemburg's Marco Girardelli, who finished 12th yet still climbed atop the overall World Cup standings in his quest for a record fifth title. Girardelli overhauled Alberto Tomba, who has elected not to compete in the speed events.

Celebrations, though, were muted by the death at the weekend of the young Austrian skier, Peter Wirnsberger. After the first 15 competitors had gone out, a minute's silence was observed. 'The race was difficult for all of us because of Peter's accident,' Assinger admitted. 'But we decided to take the risks to try and do it for him.' The Austrian team has lately been beset by tragedy, with the deaths in 1991 of Rudolf Nierlich in a car crash and Gernot Reinstadler in a downhill at Wengen.

Assinger, 33rd out, sped past Stock's mark with a storming run on the bumpy, icy course, just as the locals were hailing what appeared to be the 34-year-old's first super-g victory. Typically, Stock, who in Val Gardena earlier this month became the oldest man to win a World Cup race, was the first to offer congratulations. He later announced his intention to retire at the end of the season.

For Assinger, a native of the surrounding region of Carinthia, this triumph represented a notable recovery. At Val Gardena in 1988 he achieved his previous best World Cup placing, coming second in a downhill, only to fall in training in Switzerland the following year, ripping ligaments in both knees.

He, too, would have retired next spring had he failed to garner a good result this season. 'To win here before Christmas is a wonderful gift for me,' he said. 'It pays me back for all my problems.'

Among the less fortunate was the World downhill champion, Franz Heinzer, who clattered into a gate as he came out of a jump, and Norway's Ole-Christian Furuseth, who caught an edge upon landing and crashed after an early leap.

The reigning champion, Paul Accola of Switzerland, bobbled off course as he entered an early left-hander off a tight jump. Controlled aggression then restored his equilibrium and he appeared to have done enough to prevail - until the Austrians got going.

'One good thing about being old,' Stock observed, 'is that you don't have to worry yourself to death about your results. You can have more fun.'

Results, Sport in Short, page 27