Austrian ski team aims to rediscover its magic at worlds
VIENNA (AP) — Only one skier in the 24-member Austrian squad for the upcoming world championships has won on the Word Cup circuit this season.
A star coach left the women’s team mid-January.
And “crisis” has become a common word on the ski-mad nation’s sport pages.
Has the once dominating “Wunderteam” from Austria lost its magic going into the worlds?
Led by two-time world champions Vincent Kriechmayr and Katharina Liensberger, Austria won five gold medals at the 2021 worlds in Italy. And it trailed only Switzerland for most skiing silverware at last year’s Beijing Olympics.
But this time, even the president of the Austrian ski federation has lowered expectations.
“We don’t travel to France as the main favorites,” Roswitha Stadlober said this week after the federation announced its squad.
Kriechmayr, the defending champion in both downhill and super-G, goes to Courchevel on the back of three recent victories — but he is the only Austrian winner after 27 men’s and 28 women’s World Cup races this season.
Liensberger upset Mikaela Shiffrin and Petra Vlhova to win the slalom title in 2021 and added Olympic silver the following year. She looked set for the next step in her career when the federation appointed Livio Magoni as her personal coach in April.
But the cooperation with the Italian, who led Tina Maze and Vlhova to overall World Cup titles, never blossomed. Liensberger had gained only three top-10 results from 13 starts when Magoni quit his job, saying he regretted “not meeting the expectations in the cooperation with Katharina.”
The arrival of Magoni had been part of an overhaul of the team’s coaching staff. Both the women’s and men’s team got a new head coach — Thomas Trinker and Marko Pfeifer, respectively — and there was a changing of the guard for most discipline training groups as well.
Among the incoming coaches was Alex Hoedlmoser, who worked with the U.S. ski team for 25 years and was the women’s head coach during Lindsey Vonn’s most successful years.
At the same time, a range of Austrian coaches left the national federation — and are meanwhile celebrating success elsewhere.
Christian Mitter is head coach of a Norwegian men’s team that includes Aleksander Aamodt Kilde and Lucas Braathen; his older brother, Mark Mitter, has joined Shiffrin’s team; Andreas Puelacher is coaching the German women; Patrick Riml is back as the U.S. ski team’s Alpine director; and Ferdinand Hirscher, father of record-overall champion Marcel Hirscher, is working with Henrik Kristoffersen.
All the changes have had an impact on the Austrian team.
“We knew last year that everything had changed. The whole structure was new,” Liensberger said. “There was no one still here from the year before, so that makes it difficult to use experiences and data from previous seasons.”
Also dampening Austria’s medal hopes is the absence of Matthias Mayer, the country’s most successful Olympic skier. The three-time gold medalist abruptly retired between course inspection and race at the Bormio downhill in December.
But there are positive signs, too. Daniel Hemetsberger and Cornelia Huetter had multiple podium results in speed races, and Manuel Feller and Franziska Gritsch posted the fastest run times in recent slaloms.
“On the men’s side, we have in each discipline one or two athletes who can compete for a medal,” Austrian Alpine director Herbert Mandl said. “The women haven’t really got going so far, but the speed team has the potential to be on the podium. They have won races in the past, they can leave their mark on these world championships.”
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