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Alpine skiing: ‘Whistling’ Austrian racers raise eyebrows

Kitzbuehel — Shut your eyes and you can hear them coming, coaches complain of the Austrian ski team, which has rebounded from a medal-less Olympics, possibly thanks to an advantageous figure-hugging catsuit.

Since the World Cup kicked off this season, coaches have questioned the whistling effect Austrian racers emit when hurtling down the speed events, often to podium success after a barren year on last season’s circuit.

Michael Walchhofer, Georg Streitberger and Klaus Kroell have all benefited from the newly-designed suits, but the sport’s governing body, the International Ski Federation (FIS), has moved quickly to play down any controversy.

The FIS affirmed that the suits were within the strict technical rules on equipment but that hasn’t stopped their rivals from wanting to know exactly what their secret is.

“It’s very frustrating because we have the impression they’re not skiing very well but they’re going fast,” moaned France coach Patrice Morisod.

“It’s clear they have an advanced technology. They’re so sure of themselves now that they don’t even put them on during training, but on the piste it’s impressive.”

The Swiss added: “At Wengen, it was stunning. You shut your eyes and you knew that it was an Austrian. The noise leads you to thinking that the air doesn’t enter the suit.

“We’ve analysed the video but the best bet would be to sneak into a bedroom and pinch one of their suits!”

The Austrian team were left to do some serious soul-searching after the debacle of the Vancouver Games in 2010 when the men’s team returned home in national disgrace after having failed to win a single medal.

Former men’s coach Toni Giger was named as head of a research cell to examine, in tandem with universities, all aspects of the team.

“I was already interested in these issue when I was head coach of the men but I couldn’t dedicate more time to it,” said Giger.

The so-called ‘Wunderteam’ has also worked with equipment manufacturers on the protective gear used by their racers.

This work “has been important vis-a-vis increasing speed”, head coach Mathias Berthold said.

But Berthold and Giger played down the significance of the “whistling” suits.

“The most important thing is the athlete,” Giger stressed, adding that testing was continuing ahead of next month’s World Championships in the German resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

“We might fine-tune some things,” he said.

Stephanie Pertuiset / AFP / Expatica