German speed team's rise could boost skiing's TV ratings

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SELVA DI VAL GARDENA, Italy (AP) — The end of a long drought for the German team could provide a big boost for Alpine skiing.

Early starter Josef Ferstl put down a nearly flawless run in a fog-interrupted super-G on Friday to become the first German man to win a World Cup speed event in 13 years.

German public TV stations ARD and ZDF often provide the sport with its biggest live TV audiences, influencing calendar decisions and starting times for races.

While Germany has had a standout slalom skier in Felix Neureuther, and Maria Hoefl-Riesch and Viktoria Rebensburg have been highly successful for the women's team, the men's speed squad had lacked consistent success since Markus Wasmeier's achievements in the 1980s and 90s.

"Looking on the other side of it, the best thing that could happen today was a German win," Norwegian standout Kjetil Jansrud said after a major mistake took him out of contention. "It's such a big market and the interest is huge in Germany. ... It's perfect for the sport."

Wearing the No. 2 bib, Ferstl required slightly more than 1 1/2 minutes to negotiate the Saslong course and finished a slim 0.02 seconds ahead of Max Franz of Austria.

Olympic downhill champion Matthias Mayer of Austria came third, 0.10 behind, despite a big mistake.

"It's good for the sport that there are a lot of different countries winning," said Hans Pum, the Alpine director of the powerful Austrian team.

Ferstl's father, Sepp, won the Hahnenkamm downhill in Kitzbuehel, Austria, in 1978 and '79.

"Two wins in Kitzbuehel remains a dream for me," Ferstl said.

The previous German man to win a speed race — downhill or super-G — was Max Rauffer in a downhill on the Saslong in 2004. In super-G, the German drought had stretched all the way back to 1991, when Wasmeier won in Lake Louise, Alberta.

Wasmeier also swept the super-G and giant slalom at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics and claimed nine World Cup victories in his career, while Hansjoerg Tauscher won the downhill at the 1989 world championships in Vail, Colorado.

"It's unbelievable: A victory for a German guy," Ferstl said. "It was really a great run but I was a little bit lucky with the weather."

Later starters struggled as the fog set in. Following numerous delays and interruptions, the race was stopped because of the low visibility after only 38 of 80 racers were able to start their runs. Only lower-ranked skiers were prevented from competing.

Aksel Lund Svindal, who finished ninth, and Jansrud had won the last five super-G's in Val Gardena, with Svindal taking a record four.

In another tough day on home snow for the Italian team , Christof Innerhofer and Dominik Paris had the worst of the fog, while Peter Fill posted the host squad's top result in eighth.

The top Americans were Travis Ganong and Thomas Biesemeyer in 17th and 18th, respectively.

It's been a revival season for the Germans, with Thomas Dressen finishing third in a downhill in Beaver Creek, Colorado, earlier this month for the team's first speed podium since Rauffer's only victory.

Andreas Sander, another German, has had three straight top 10 results in the speed events, including sixth Friday.

"The podium of Thomas in Beaver Creek really triggered something," Ferstl said. "We realized we could reach the podium."

Over the past two decades, promising Germans have had their careers derailed by injury.

Florian Eckert won the bronze medal in downhill at the 2001 world championships and then tore up his knee. Tobias Stechert, another promising downhiller, retired this year because of persistent injuries.

"Always when we were very close we had a really, really tough punishment. We thought there were some bad ghosts over the speed team," Germany Alpine director Wolfgang Maier said. "This is the first generation where we are a little more stable."

The hiring of Mathias Berthold, an Austrian, as men's head coach has also made an impact. Berthold previously proved successful coaching Hoefl-Riesch on the women's side and then in charge of Austria's men's team. He surprisingly left the Austrian team after the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Berthold was hired to prepare the team for the upcoming Pyeongchang Olympics.

"Mathias knows a lot," Pum said.

The Germans could also contend in the classic downhill scheduled for Saturday in Val Gardena, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary of World Cup racing.


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