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Alpine review: Tough Games for Aussies

26 February 2006

To paraphrase Greg Chappell, it was hard to tell whether Australia's alpine skiers were in form at Torino 2006 - they weren't in long enough.

Of the four Aussies in the five men's alpine events, only Craig Branch in the downhill completed his run.

Jono Brauer showed outstanding training and practice-run form ahead of the combined and the slalom, but failed to finish either and Brad Wall also crashed out midway through his run in the giant slalom.

A.J. Bear was perhaps the unluckiest, completing one pretty good Super G run, only to have the event halted due to deteriorating conditions and re-run later in the day. Bear didn't make it down a second time.

Branch kicked off proceedings for the Aussie contingent in style, finishing 32nd on the challenging course at Sestriere Borgata on Day 2, Australia's best Winter Olympic downhill result in 18 years.

Wearing bib No.1 after being 30th-fastest in the final practice, Branch overcame a few nerves associated with being the first skier on the course.

"I definitely had some adrenalin pumping," he said afterwards.

"It was a little nerve-wracking earlier on today but I just tried to relax and not worry about that and just stick to my plan and do what I wanted to do and ski the way I wanted to ski.

"I was really happy with the way I skied at the top. I charged the top section and skied quite well up there. It's steep with tough turns up there so that was good,” said the Sydney skier, who turned 29 the day before the race.

"I can't be too disappointed. It was a great opportunity to kick off the Olympic downhill and not too many people get to do that."

On Day 4, Brauer made a spectacular exit from the combined event, crashing out midway through the downhill leg.

The 24-year-old from Sydney caught an edge off a jump just 50 seconds into his run and speared into a safety net at high speed. Fortunately he emerged unscathed.

"It's really ripply when you land off that little jump and my outside ski caught and then my inside ski caught and I went down," he said soon after skiing to the finish area.

"I thought I was going alright, actually. I hit that top section really well, did what the coaches and I talked about and what I planned to do, and I'm really annoyed that I crashed because I had a pretty decent chance of getting a good placing tonight," a frustrated Brauer added.

"I was just trying to punch it as hard as I could and that was the end of me. I was just unlucky the way I landed."

Fresh snow played havoc with the Super G on Day 10, but Bear put down a good run before officials postponed the event after 17 skiers had started. When it came to the afternoon re-run, he clipped a gate and crashed out.

"That's the first time I've seen a race restarted like that, after 17 people had come down, but that's the way it was and I had to go again and unfortunately I crashed," Bear said.

The 29-year-old from Sydney was 5th on the course after the 11am start, just as the snow started to get heavier, and he made one mistake which cost him a good deal of time.

"The first run it was snowing for everyone but I guess it got a bit heavier after the first few and the visibility wasn't great and there was a lot of new snow on the course," he said.

"I was having a pretty good run until about halfway down I swung out a little too wide and caught my tip in some fresh snow that hadn't been slipped off and I made a bit of a mistake (and) dumped a lot of speed.

"Other than that I was happy with the way I skied."

The giant slalom, the fourth of the men's alpine events, was held at Sestriere Colle on Day 10, and Wall was one of 34 skiers to crash out on the first run.

On a tough first-run course laid by the Canadians, nine of the top 30 skiers failed to finish and Wall, wearing bib 37, joined them on the sidelines after sliding out at high speed around 50 seconds into the 75-80 second run. Another 22 competitors fell or missed a gate after Wall's exit, leaving only 47 of the 82 original entrants to contest the second run.

The 26-year-old Jindabyne skier was lucky to escape uninjured when his skis slid from under him as he attempted a sharp turn.

"I'm not entirely sure what happened. I came in and skied the first couple of gates at the top of the second pitch really well, but then I went to lay it on coming to the side hill turn and I thought that my ski was off before I went down, but the coaches seem to think that I went down and then my ski came off," he said.

"Something obviously went wrong - I've exploded my binding - so I'm not entirely sure how that happened or when it happened. Finally, on Day 15, Brauer was again in good company as 30 skiers slid off the icy slalom course on the first run.

"I've had better days," a disappointed Brauer said.

"I think I caught an outside edge and high-sided. Just a bit unlucky, but that's life.

"It was tough conditions - the course didn't hold up as well as we thought, but that's no excuse. I was giving it all I had and I'd rather go hard and crash, than go soft and come last," the Thredbo-based 24-year-old said.

"My game plan for the get-go was just to give it all I had and if I had put down two good runs then I think I could have finished really well, but that's just the way the cookie crumbles."

Murray Brust / AOC

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