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Alpine skiing-Austrians say Vancouver pain is past

A technician gestures before the opening ceremony of the 126th IOC session in Sochi, February 4, 2014. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard
A technician gestures before the opening ceremony of the 126th IOC session in Sochi, February 4, 2014. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

By Alan Baldwin

ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - Austrian skiing officials have shrugged off the pain of Olympic failure since the last Winter Games and they are hoping Sochi will also help the media forget the nightmare of Vancouver.

"For us it's forgotten. For some press people, not," Austrian ski federation sport director Hans Pum told Reuters on Tuesday with a laugh as he surveyed the athletes' village in the mountains.

In Whistler, where the Alpine skiing was held at the 2010 Vancouver Games, the sport's most dominant nation came and went without a single men's medal for the first time since 1936.

The shock was palpable, with a string of Austrian favorites coming tantalizingly close to the podium. It was short-lived, for victories came again soon enough on the World Cup circuit and at world championships.

Even so, the Austrian men failed to win a medal in the speed disciplines at last year's world championships on home snow in Schladming, with Marcel Hirscher coming to the rescue in the technical disciplines with two golds and a silver.

Hirscher, who has won two overall World Cups since Vancouver, will again be the main man in the team but other young skiers have come on strong.

"In Vancouver on the men's side we were not so lucky," said Pum. "We had four fourth places.

"But we have a strong team here. We have had in all disciplines, Alpine and also the others - Nordic combined and biathlon - a victory this season. We never had it before. I think we are the only nation that has in all disciplines the victory. Snowboard also. We have a strong team."

He mentioned Max Franz and Matthias Mayer among the younger Alpine contenders in a team that includes double slalom world champion Mario Matt and 2006 double gold medalist Benjamin Raich.

The men's team would have been even stronger had Hannes Reichelt, strong in both downhill and giant slalom, not been ruled out with a spinal disc injury only two days after he won in Kitzbuehel in January.

That pain is particularly strong given that it is in the glamorous speed disciplines where the Austrian men have suffered most in recent years.

The last to win the Olympic downhill was Fritz Strobl in 2002, and before him Patrick Ortlieb in 1992.

"It's very bad Reichelt is not here," said Pum. "But that's life. We have a young team, we will do our best. We have a good mix."

Pum declined to set any target, however, even if he expected the downhill to be a real test.

"We hope we make a lot (of medals)," he smiled. "Some of the very good athletes have a lot of pressure to win the medal as favorites. So maybe one of the young and not so successful athletes can win a medal at the Olympics, with no pressure."

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Stephen Wood)

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