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Weekend lands Sykora a title, but others in hospital

January 20, 1997

WENGEN, Switzerland (AP) _ Austria’s Thomas Sykora and Kristian Ghedina of Italy both walked away with wins but many more skiers were airlifted away from the course during a crash-filled weekend of racing.

As he has been all season, Sykora was in complete control from the moment he stepped out of the start hut. He twisted his way down a Lauberhorn course that he described as the toughest on the World Cup circuit to collect his fifth victory in six slalom races this season.

But there was little control to be seen during Saturday’s downhill as racers struggled on the 4.2 Lauberhorn course, one of the toughest and most demanding on the World Cup circuit.

Even Ghedina, who blitzed to victory in a course record time, could not escape unscathed. The 27-year-old lost control as he sped across the finish line. He slammed into the safety padding at such a velocity it was several minutes before workers were able to wedge him out.

If it’s true that any World Cup ski race you can walk away from is a good one, then a lot of skiers had a bad day Saturday.

Several times the race was halted due to crashes.

The longest delay occured when American Kyle Rasmussen twisted his knee and tumbled off course. The American was airlifted from the course to a nearby hospital in Interlaken with suspected knee damage, stopping the race for 30 minutes.

The race also wiped out two countries’ ski teams as Liechtenstein’s Markus Foser broke several bones in his hand and Britain’s Graham Bell dislocated his shoulder.

Other casualties included a forerunner whose broken leg required surgery.

And shocked fans watched as Switzerland’s Bruno Kernen’s crashed sickeningly into safety fencing, leaving him with severe whiplash.

Several other skiers were involved in spectacular spills, but were fortunate to get up and brush off the snow, unhurt.

The most serious accident occured during final training on Friday when France’s Adrien Duvillard lost control and smashed into a safety fence at over 90 kilometers (55 miles) an hour.

The Frenchman crashed at the exact same place where Austrian Gernot Reinstadler was killed in an eerily similar accident six years ago.

Duvillard lay unconscious in the finish area for 30 minutes as rescue personel attempted to stabilize him before rushing him to hospital by helicopter.

While he has come out of the coma he was artificially put in, Duvillard remains in hospital for observation and tests. The accident left him with serious head trauma, broken ribs and a punctured lung.

Minutes after training resumed American Chad Fleischer crashed in the exact spot Duvillard had. Though unhurt, the Vail, Colorado native was shaken.

``I thought I was going to break my neck,″ said Fleischer, who was unaware of Duvillard’s accident when he lunged out of the start hut.

``You’re so tired when you reach the bottom, and if you’re not concentrating, it’s easy to miss that last jump.″

Little has been done to alter the course in the six years between Reinstadler’s tragic death and Duvillard’s accident.

The Frenchman’s crash brought calls from several teams to make changes.

Duvillard’s accident once again sparked the ongoing debate over racers’ safety which has raged since Austrian Ulrike Meier’s death in a women’s downhill in Garmisch in 1994. (eb)