From 7 to 11 March, the best athletes on the Austrian and international para-skiing scene battled it out in St. Johann/Alpendorf for the highly prized World Championship title. Para-skiing, a sport that combines race skiing with freefall target jumping, has established itself internationally since the 1950s as a wintertime parachuting discipline. For four days, 65 athletes from 8 nations were squarely focused on taking their freefall and skiing technique up to a whole new level.
For the Austrian team, their “home game” turned out to be a triumphal success. Along with the Russian team, they coped best with the occasionally very difficult conditions caused by the weather, laying down outstanding performances in both disciplines.
30-year-old Magdalena Schwertl (HSV Red Bull Salzburg) took gold in the Ladies division, bringing home a well-deserved victory thanks to an outstanding jump and a great performance on the piste. And for Magdalena, the good news just kept on coming: Scoring the lowest points total of all competitors, the Thalgau native also set a new world record, and she couldn’t have been more thrilled: “I still can’t quite believe it! First of all I win the individual title, which just delights me. Then comes gold in the team competition with Marina. And on top of that, I actually managed to set a new points record – for a home World Championship, it just doesn’t get any better than that!”
The outcome of the Juniors division wasn’t much of a surprise to anyone, with favorite Sebastian Graser (HSV Red Bull Salzburg) from Elsbethen taking gold ahead of Manuel Sulzbacher (HSV Red Bull Salzburg), though in the Men’s division he had to settle, despite an outstanding ski race and some great jumps, for silver behind Alexey Burenin (also 2001 World Champion) from Russia. Though at first a little disappointed about his second place, the joy of the 20-year-old Elsbethen lad soon prevailed: “Second is great, of course. Unfortunately, I feel I gave away first place, but taking home silver is fantastic anyway!“
With silver in the overall team competition, the “Austria White” team (Sebastian Graser – HSV Red Bull Salzburg, Anton Gruber – HSV Red Bull Salzburg, Karl Kreuzer – 1. TFC Tirol and Gernot Alic – HFSC Freistadt) ultimately had to concede defeat only to the strong Russian team. For Anton Gruber, the icing on his personal home World Championship cake was added by a gold in the Masters division, a result which couldn’t have pleased Sankt Johann’s local hero more: “It was a superb World Championship and we performed at our best – Thank you, Austria!” Karl Kreuzer won bronze in the same category.
After successfully hosting six Para-Ski World Cup competitions in recent years, the organizers also mastered the challenges of a “World Championship” brilliantly and were highly satisfied with its success. Together with local skydiving club HSV Red Bull Salzburg, the Alpendorf Bergbahnen AG, St. Johann/Alpendorf Tourist Office, Sankt Veit Ski Club and the borough of St. Johann im Pongau, they managed to pull off an extraordinary event, one that more than lived up to the sporting and organizational expectations of a World Championship. But for the organizers, perhaps the most important aspect of all was introducing the not widely-known sport of Para-Skiing to a broader public, and hopefully sparking some excitement in the process.
Results available under this link.
Pictures by Carsten Thiel