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Steely Small skis big at World Champs

11 February 2013

SKI: Australian pocket rocket Greta Small has continued her sensational snow form to finish 25th in Super Combined at the 2013 World Ski Championships in Schladming, Germany.

The 17-year-old was competing at the inaugural Winter Youth Olympic Games 12 months ago, and has taken to the senior stage with aplomb.

Just the second-youngest competitor in a senior field that included her idol, Lindsey Vonn, Small’s strong form is all the more remarkable given the testing conditions competitors have faced in Germany.

Some 15 competitors did not finish the Super Combined, while multiple Olympic Champion Vonn suffered a devastating fall in the Super G event on the opening day that ended her season.

The Super G event was cut short due to terrible fog and poor conditions, and Small was not able to take to the start line. Despite the obvious emotional toll, Small saw the silver lining and exploded to finish 25th in the Super Combined, achieving her goal of reaching the top 30.

Small then went on to finish 33rd in a thrilling downhill event where France's Marion Rolland upstaged a raft of big-name favourites to come out a surprise winner.

The 30-year-old has just two World Cup podiums to her name, tellingly both in Schladming last year, and nailed a near-perfect run down the testing, 3km-long Streicher course, scene of more woe for the vaunted Austrian team.

Rolland, who gained some notoriety after suffering an embarrassing fall just three seconds into the downhill at the 2010 Winter Olympics, clocked 1min 50.00sec.

Italian Nadia Fanchini took silver at 0.16sec, with Germany's Maria-Hoefl-Riesch claiming bronze, a further 0.54sec adrift, to go with her super-combined gold medal.

"It's a dream come true," said Rolland, whose gold follows medals for teammates Gauthier de Tessieres (super-G silver) and David Poisson (downhill bronze) and now sees France top the medal table.

"It's amazing," she said of her team's medal charge. "Gauthier wasn't supposed to make these championships and he got a medal so I knew it could happen to me."

In sunny, cold conditions, Rolland safely negotiated a tricky top section and powered through the snaking bottom part of the icy piste that saw three dramatic crashes in the first 10 runners.

Austrian hope Stephanie Moser was an early casualty, one of her skis popping off and sending her crashing into the side netting. Germany's Veronique Hronek and Swiss racer Dominique Gisin soon after joined her in the nets.

A quartet of US racers failed in their bid to fill the sizeable hole left by Lindsey Vonn, the reigning Olympic champion who sustained season-ending knee injuries in a crash in Tuesday's opening super-G.

Olympic silver medallist Julia Mancuso, fresh from a super-G bronze here, finished fifth behind Switzerland's Nadja Kamer and one place ahead of US teammate Stacey Cook, currently lying second in the World Cup downhill standings.

"It was bumpy and fast but it was a lot of fun," Mancuso said, adding that crashes were part and parcel of racing.

"It was hard to feel perfect, I don't think anyone felt perfect, you just had to really charge hard and I'm missing a little bit of that.

"I know it was really close to be on the podium but I'm happy and that was a good downhill run for me.

"When you're at the world championships everyone's just charging hard, nothing else matters and sometimes you go down."

There was also no third medal for Slovenian Tina Maze, the runaway World Cup overall leader who won the super-G and picked up a silver in the super-combined here.

She finished in seventh at 1.21sec.

With Moser crashing out, Austrian hopes were pinned on reigning world downhill champion Elisabeth Goergl, Andrea Fischbacher, Anna Fenniger and Regina Sterz, who had topped the two opening training runs here.

Fischbacher was first home for the host nation in eighth, 1.23sec off Rolland's pace, with Goergl in 10th spot, a further 0.25sec adrift.

Olympics.com.au with AFP