Reuters - Sun, 24 Jan 21:50:00 2010
Austria's downhill skiers have had a miserable season so far but may find some crumbs of comfort from previous Olympic years as they look ahead to next month's Winter Games.
Traditionally regarded as the sport's dominant nation, the Austrians will arrive in Vancouver without a men's downhill win in six outings this season.
On Saturday, they suffered the indignity of missing out on the podium at the Hahnenkamm, their favourite hunting ground, while Andrej Sporn, from unsung Slovenia, took second place behind Switzerland's Didier Cuche.
It is Austria's worst performance since 1991-92, when they went through the season without a win.
But they did take gold in the men's downhill at the Albertville Winter Games when Patrick Ortlieb won the race.
"It would have been great to go to the Olympics with a World Cup win at Kitzbuehel," said Michael Walchhofer (pictured), probably Austria's best hope of winning the blue riband event in Vancouver. "But we have a good team and good skiers.
"What happens at the Olympics is different."
The Olympics has often played havoc with the form books but there have been other signs of hope for the Austrians.
Walchhofer, winner of 11 World Cup downhills, has performed reasonably consistently, managing one third place, a fourth and two fifths as well as winning the Super G at Val D'Isere.
Mario Scheiber was fourth at Kitzbuehel and second-fastest in Bormio, only to be disqualified on a technicality.
Meanwhile, the Swiss, themselves in the doldrums until recently, have swapped roles with their neighbours, winning four of the six downhills this season, the others having gone to Slovenia and Canada.
Swiss Carlo Janka, 23, has emerged as one of skiing's most prodigious talents, with a hat-trick of wins at Beaver Creek in December and victory in a downhill in Wengen.
His team mate Didier Cuche, on the other hand, has peaked at the age of the 35. Having won nine World Cup races in between 1993 and 2009, Cuche has added four more this season including a double of super-G and downhill at Kitzbuehel.
"It's better to be in this position than in 20th position and knowing that you need a miracle to get on the podium," said Cuche, after reluctantly accepting his role as Olympic favourite.
"I'd rather be the hunted than the hunter."