February 13, 2005
BORMIO, Italy (AP Erica Bulman)--The new team event at the Alpine Skiing World Championships was full of surprises.
First, Germany won after failing to claim a single individual medal in two weeks of competition. Second, the format was popular and exciting.
The Austrians and Americans were the heavy favorites for the team contest, but the six Germans skiers were consistent from start to finish to pull off the upset and take the gold medal.
The Austrians won silver for their 11th medal, and France happily claimed its first medal of the championships, edging the Americans for bronze.
``It was very important for the German Ski Federation to win this medal today,'' said German team veteran Hilde Gerg, who won five medals at previous Olympic and world championships but never a gold. ``We have a very good team. Sometimes maybe we're not so lucky, but the team is very good. It's a small team.''
In a fun-filled atmosphere, Florian Eckert, Martina Ertl, Andreas Ertl and Gerg delivered steady runs in the morning super-G to put Germany in the lead, as the large crowds cheered each time the scores were updated on a screen at the finish.
Germany remained atop the standings throughout the slalom portion, following a third place by Martina Ertl in the opening women's slalom run and a first for Felix Neureuther. Monika Bergmann-Schmuderer clinched the gold by posting the fastest time in the third of the four slalom series.
``This is a dream,'' said Bergmann-Schmuderer, soaked in champagne. ``Everything today unfolded super well. Winning the gold medal before running the last series was really great.''
After Michael Walchhofer and Benjamin Raich led Austria to provisional second place following the super-G, the fight for silver went down to the men's final slalom run, with Rainer Schoenfelder clinching it for Austria.
``At the end it was a hard competition,'' Schoenfelder said. ``It would be a bad thing if the competition would be easy for one nation, us for example. But these rules make it not too easy for Austria.
``As you see, Germany won the race and I think this is possible for every nation. It really depends on every racer finishing and with a good time.''
It was a fifth medal and a new experience for Raich, who won the slalom and combined, taking silver in the giant slalom and bronze in the super-G.
``The men and the women are not very often together,'' Raich said. ``It's good for the team spirit.''
Many had ridiculed the new team event concept, arguing it was too complicated for spectators to understand, too late in the championships and too team-oriented in a highly individual sport.
Nations named six skiers to their team and then chose four _ two men and two women _ to race one super-G run each and four _ two men and two women _ for the slalom.
A points ranking system determined the winning nation after the total of eight runs for each team.
Sweden missed out on one of the men's super-G runs after misunderstanding the competition's qualifying criteria.
The United States learned that consistency was as important as spectacular individual results.
Newly crowned downhill and super-G champion Bode Miller and Daron Rahlves carried the team to a provisional fourth place in the morning's super-G, posting the two fastest times, while Lindsey Kildow and double bronze medalist Julia Mancuso failed to finish.
But Miller once again self-destructed in the slalom, missing a gate on the upper part of the course. Miller has failed to finish seven of eight slalom races this season, including Sunday's world championship race.
Copyright © 2005 The Associated Press