Finally, Switzerland's Ski Team Draws a Blank : West Germany's Frank Woerndl Wins Men's Slalom Title as Competition Ends

Times Assistant Sports Editor

They've already posted the Las Vegas odds on winning Super Bowl XXII next January in San Diego, so it's probably not too early to do the same for the 1988 Winter Olympics, which will open exactly one year from next Friday at Calgary, Canada.

In one of the glamour sports, Alpine skiing, the line on which nation will win the most medals should probably be as follows:

--Switzerland, 1 to 1,000.

--The rest of the world, 1,000 to 1.

Or something like that.

The host country for the World Alpine Ski Championships was finally shut out Sunday in the final race of this 15-day marathon on snow, but it still finished with 14 medals, including the gold in 8 of the 10 events.

The United States came away with one medal, Tamara McKinney's bronze in the women's combined. But there was a hint of promise for the future as Felix McGrath finished 10th Sunday in the men's slalom, only 1.66 seconds out of first place, on a relatively warm, partially overcast day before an estimated 10,000 spectators.

Sunday's winner was a West German, Frank Woerndl, who overtook his teammate, Armin Bittner, in the second run to win by .19 of a second with a total time of 1:54.63. Austria's Guenther Mader slipped between them for the silver.

Marc Girardelli of Luxembourg, the meet's only other non-Swiss gold medalist (in the men's combined) finished fourth, just ahead of the old pro, Ingemar Stenmark.

The laconic Swede, who was 10th in the giant slalom last Wednesday, may have been skiing in his last major race. He is at about the same point in ski racing that Jack Nicklaus is in golf--still good enough to be a contender and able to pull a surprise now and then, but a move or two behind his glory days.

All that Stenmark, a month shy of his 31st birthday, will say about possible retirement is, "I will decide after this season whether to continue."

Again, if you want odds, it's probably about 10 to 1 that he won't be at Calgary.

However, barring injury, America's McGrath will be there. As for winning a medal, he said: "Right now, I'm just going to concentrate on moving up into the top five. It's a little premature to talk about medals.

"This summer, I'll do more physical training than in the past, and my added experience should also help me next season."

Earlier in the week, McGrath had disclosed that the U.S. men's team was in a state of turmoil, largely because several of the racers disagreed with the methods of Jean Pierre Chatellard, the slalom and giant slalom coach. McGrath said he didn't want to ski for Chatellard anymore.

On Sunday, U.S. Alpine Director Harald Schoenhaar said: "We don't plan any major changes for next winter. After everything settles down, we'll take a look at the entire situation, but everything will stay pretty much the same.

"I will probably name a head coach for the men's team, instead of having those duties split between the downhill coach and the slalom/giant slalom coach. I need someone to take charge of the organization of the men's team, but don't ask me now who it will be, because I don't know."

Schoenhaar called the overall showing of the U.S. racers here "disappointing," adding: "Of course, there were a couple of highlights. Felix had a great run today. (Eva) Twardokens would have finished higher than ninth in the women's slalom if she hadn't put on the brakes near the bottom of the course. McKinney got a bronze medal. But, otherwise, the Swiss just beat up on us and everyone else."

McKinney, who watched the men's race from the finish area, didn't want to talk about the incident that had upset her Friday night, on the eve of her blowout in the first run of the women's slalom. Apparently, it was a comment by Cindy Nelson, the former star racer who is here as a member of a delegation from Vail, Colo., that struck a nerve.

Nelson said that McKinney had skied timidly and had taken the wrong line down the course in the women's giant slalom Thursday, when she finished 18th.

That might not sound like anything to brood about, but McKinney has always been sensitive to criticism, especially if it comes from somebody like the former "mother" of the U.S. Ski Team, Cindy Nelson.

Although the American performance here was indeed disappointing, the biggest loser was probably Austria, which has long prided itself on being the New York Yankees of ski racing. The tally that was flashed back to Vienna read as follows: 0 gold medals, 3 silvers, 1 bronze.

"It's not a game at all," said Andreas Rauch, coach of the Austrian women's team. "It's serious business, more than just sport. We have a big ski industry--factories that make skis, boots, poles, goggles, etc. There is a lot of Austrian business interest in the sport. If we don't perform, they get very nervous."

One Austrian journalist wrote: "The people are fed up. In Austria, it is only victory that counts, only number one. Everybody is an expert. When the team is No. 1, they say, 'We are the greatest.' When the team is No. 4, they say, 'Come on, you must train harder.' "

The biggest surprise of the world championships was 18-year-old Mateja Svet of Yugoslavia, who earned one silver and two bronze medals. Obviously, she has to be considered one of the favorites in the Olympic women's slalom and the giant slalom on Mt. Allan next February.

Svet, whose summer training includes kayaking with her coach, Toni Vogrinec, will attend school in Yugoslavia for three months this spring--"to learn more English"--then plans to come to the United States for a summer vacation.

Still, in the end, these world championships will be remembered as Switzerland's finest hour in sports. Pirmin Zurbriggen, who celebrated his 24th birthday last Wednesday by winning the men's giant slalom, and Maria Walliser, 23, are arguably the best male and female skiers right now, but it doesn't stop there. The depth of both the men's and the women's teams is what makes the Swiss so formidable.

It's not likely, but Calgary could be a different ballgame. As the U.S. Ski Team's Schoenhaar said: "We'll be getting them on our own turf, instead of having to compete with them in their homeland after spending seven weeks on the road, as was the case here."

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