Rauffer gives Germany first Alpine win in 13 years

Saturday, December 18th 2004, 12:13 pm
By: News On 6

VAL GARDENA, Italy (AP) _ Germany's Max Rauffer captured a downhill in strong wind Saturday for his first World Cup victory, a race in which all the favorites faired poorly.

Overall World Cup leader Bode Miller blamed the difficult conditions for his 14th-place finish. The course was shortened slightly because of the gusts.

``When the wind pulls you there is no way to get around that,'' the American said. ``It was a tough day for me. It makes it hard to go fast when the wind is in your face.''

Rauffer covered the classic Saslong course in 1 minute, 50.59 seconds, giving the German men's team its first World Cup win in almost 13 years. Juerg Gruenenfelder of Switzerland finished only 0.05 seconds behind for his first top-three finish. Up-and-coming Austrian Johann Grugger was third, 0.13 seconds back.

``It's not easy to carry the hopes of the entire German team, especially the last few years when we haven't been that good,'' said Rauffer, who tore ligaments in his right knee a year ago.

``I skied a very clean, aggressive run. I couldn't tell if I was helped by the wind,'' he added. ``It's difficult to know if there is a tail wind. I just want to enjoy this moment.''

Gruenenfelder broke his kneecap four years ago and missed the next two years before returning last season.

``I knew the conditions had been changing at the start,'' he said. ``Maybe I did have a little luck, but after all the bad luck I've had I deserved it.''

With 798 points, Miller still holds a commanding lead in the overall standings over his main rivals. Defending overall champion Hermann Maier (419 points) came in 37th and fellow Austrian Michael Walchhofer (395), winner of Friday's super-G, was 20th.

Antoine Deneriaz of France, winner of this classic downhill the past two seasons, made a major slip-up midway through his run and finished ninth.

Italy's Kristian Ghedina was 12th. He is tied with former Austrian great Franz Klammer with a record four victories on the Saslong. Just by entering Saturday's race, however, Ghedina equaled the mark by Austria's Peter Wirnsberger, an eight-time winner in the 1980s, for the most downhills raced on the World Cup circuit with 150.

Ghedina's run was also memorable because a deer ran on to the course and chased after him for the last few hundred yards. The race was delayed for several minutes while organizers chased down the animal and released it into the woods.

Rauffer's best previous result was third place in the Kvitfjell, Norway, downhill in 1999-00.

Two seasons ago, the German federation grew so tired of poor results that it pulled its entire downhill team, including Rauffer, off the World Cup circuit, sending the skiers to learn on the second-tier Europa Cup instead.

Rauffer's victory was the first by a German man since Markus Wasmeier won a downhill at Garmisch in 1992. Besides Wasmeier, the 1994 Olympic champion in giant slalom and super-G, the once powerful German team also featured Christian Neureuther, a six-time winner on the World Cup circuit in the 1970s. Neureuther's son Felix has emerged as a strong slalom skier this season.

The men will compete in a giant slalom in nearby Alta Badia on Sunday.