Austria's Gottwald claims another Olympic medal
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Austria's Gottwald claims another Olympic medal

Gottwald played a key role in helping Austria to its first Olympic Nordic combined gold medal in the large hill team event.

india Updated: Feb 17, 2006 11:48 IST

For a nation known for Hermann Maier and other Alpine stars, it may come as a surprise that Austria's most successful winter Olympian is Nordic combined skier Felix Gottwald. Gottwald played a key role Thursday in helping Austria to its first Olympic Nordic combined gold medal in the large hill team event. He now has five Olympic medals, three bronze and one silver, to add to Thursday's gold.

"It's incredible," said Gottwald. "The team has years of hard work behind them, today everything came together for us. This is the day you work for, if this is not the crown of your career, I don't know what else it could be."

In a thrilling finish to Thursday's 4X5-kilometer cross-country race, Austrian anchor Mario Stecher overtook Jens Gaiser of Germany on the last leg, erasing a 20-second gap.

"Skiing the anchor leg is the greatest opportunity," said Stecher. "I'm nearing the end of my career so this medal counts for that much more."

Stecher waited behind Gasier, riding the slipstream, and then took the lead when he saw the German skier slowing down. "I could rest a bit behind Jens," said Stecher. "It was a very hard uphill but because of the rest behind Jens, I had a little extra and said to myself 'If you want to win, you better do it now."'

When the third leg started, two-time world champion Ronny Ackermann had a 47-second lead for Germany and it was Gottwald who took 27 seconds off that, putting Stecher in a position to overtake Gaiser.

Austria finished the race with a time of 49 minutes, 52.6 seconds, 15.3 seconds ahead of the Germans, who had a 10-second head start after the second round of the wind-delayed ski jumping portion earlier Thursday.

Defending Olympic champion Finland won the bronze, 26.8 seconds behind Austria.

The Austrian team was made up of the same four skiers who won bronze in this event four years ago in Salt Lake City. Three of Austria's skiers _ Stecher, Gottwald and Christoph Bieler _ are in the top five in the current World Cup standings. Michael Gruber skied the first leg.

Germany led throughout the first three legs and much of the final leg. The decision to have Gaiser _ widely regarded as their weakest skier _ go the final leg was questioned by some.

"I think it was a big-time tactical error for them putting their weakest guy last," said American Carl Van Loan. "Their goal was to get a huge lead and take it from there, but it's hard to do that when you're out there by yourself."

Georg Hettich led Germany in the ski jumping on the large hill. "We flirted with the gold medal," said Hettich. "It wasn't enough, but hey, we took the silver."

The German foursome led after the first round of two jumps on Wednesday before the event was postponed a day because of high winds buffeting jumpers in the Italian Alps.

Reigning world champion Norway had to pull out of the event earlier this week because four of its athletes were ill. If the event had been restarted from scratch after Wednesday's postponement, Norway would have been able to get on the start list again if it could find four healthy competitors.

But the first round of jumps on Wednesday were counted and when the jumping was completed Thursday, Norway had no chance of getting back in.

First Published: Feb 17, 2006 11:48 IST