The Slovenia Times

Laying the Foundations



A quick look at the list of the national team members will reveal that the backbone of the men's team is still composed of skiers approaching their 30's, or even older. The lack of young skiers is an indication of the crisis facing Slovenian alpine skiing in general. The legendary manager, Tone Vogrinec, has repeatedly warned that there is no up-and-coming talent waiting in the wings. In the past, the juniors regularly won medals in international competitions but all that has changed over the last decade. The reason is not lack of interest, as skiing remains one of the most popular sports in Slovenia, but more a lack of money, which has forced everybody into taking a low-key approach. A couple of years ago, while the senior team was still producing reasonable results, it seems that nobody took Vogrinec's words too seriously. However, a new sponsorship contract with the Austrian insurance company, Wiener St"dtische, may help. With the exception of Mitja Dragšic and Tina Maze, the skiers' goals in terms of results are to finish regularly in the top 15. The management, however, hopes for a couple of top-seven finishes and a medal at the World Championships in Borimio, Italy, at the beginning of February. The first World Cup giant slalom events in S"lden, Austria, were disappointing as nobody was able to qualify in the top 30 in either the men's or the women's competitions. The men's coach, Janez Smitek, admitted that it would take some time to put things in order. "You can't make giant leaps," he said. The slalom team is still waiting for their first test on November 30th in Beaver Creek, USA. Starting from behind The only member of the "elite 15" group is Tina Maze and for the time being she is the only one to stand a realistic chance of a top result. The others, meanwhile, will have to attack from behind, from starting positions between 30 and 50. Namely, one of the consequences of the poor results over the last couple of years was a drop in the rankings. Therefore, the immediate goal is to improve the starting positions, which is an imperative for aiming at the top. Besides the starting positions, the women's team are only allowed to enter two skiers for each World Cup event, due to a quota set by the International Ski Federation and based on the performances from the preceding season. Maze will therefore be joined by either the young Ana Drev or the experienced Mojca Suhadolc. The other two members of the A team, Lea Dabic and Masa Redensek, are injured and will only be race-fit in the second half of the season. The men's team is happy with their training form. But more than anything else, they're happy because they have no injury worries as most of them had serious problems last year, which hampered their progress. They are all optimistic about the forthcoming season. Mitja Dragsic, 25, is Slovenia's best hope in the slalom events. His best result last year was a 7th place but he is aiming to be a regular fixture in the top 10 this year. Mitja Kunc, Rene Mlekuz and Jure Kosir have been in the national team for more than a decade and have already enjoyed considerable success. All of them are feeling optimistic and want to prove that they have only been unfortunate over the last couple of years. Both Kunc and Kosir have already won World Cup events but it seems that they have struggled to adjust to the new style of alpine skiing more than others have. All three of them, along with Drago Grublenik and Mitja Dragsic, will focus solely on the slalom events. Kosir, 32, who has remained a star in Slovenia despite his poor recent results, believes that the team as a whole will be able to challenge other nations. His expectations were boosted this year when Janez smitek became the new head coach. Under his guidance, Košir won twice in 1999, which were the last two of his three World Cup victories. Traditionally, Slovenia hosts two World Cup events each year and this season will be no different. The women's event will take place in Maribor on January 22nd and 23rd, only two days after the first alpine skiing World Cup event in Croatia, near Zagreb. The men's competition will be held a month later (February 26 and 27) in Kranjska Gora. Strobl joins Slovenia The best results for Slovenia this year will very likely be produced by - an Austrian. Namely, Josef Strobl, popularly referred to as Pepi, who has decided to join the Slovenian team due to the competition inside the Austrian team, which meant that he struggled to qualify for the big events such as the World Championships or the Olympic games. His first impressions were very positive: "Unlike the Austrian team, I am delighted at the family atmosphere of the Slovenian team." Strobl, 30, the winner of six World Cup events, is a downhill and super giant slalom specialist and he just might produce Slovenia's first downhill win.


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