ST. ANTON, Austria (AP) — With the world championships in Schladming only 25 days away, the Austrian women's speed team is looking to finally get into gear.
Neither defending downhill and super-G champion Elisabeth Goergl nor Olympic super-G gold medalist Andrea Fischbacher managed a top-10 finish this season in five World Cup events before the speed races in St. Anton this weekend.
Only super-combined world champion Anna Fenninger did by placing third in a super-G in Lake Louise last month. With Goergl and Fischbacher struggling, and slalom champion Marlies Schild out injured, Austria's unprecedented four gold medals from the 2011 worlds in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, have become a distant memory.
"The team wasn't much stronger before Garmisch," Austria women's head coach Herbert Mandl said. "At world championships, the form on the day is decisive." Fenninger won two World Cup races since Garmisch, both in giant slalom and both on home soil, making the 23-year-old Austrian her country's main medal hope in Schladming.
Fenninger added two more top-10 finishes in speed events and could medal in every discipline except slalom. "You can't win four gold medals every time," Mandl said. "I will be happy with each medal, regardless its color."
The Austrian ski federation said Friday that Goergl will skip Saturday's downhill because she felt insecure after completing only one training run on the challenging course, which was used for the men's downhill at the 2001 world championships.
A second training session was canceled Friday because of heavy snowfall. Goergl, who still planned to start in the super-G on Sunday, has won just one World Cup race since claiming the speed double in Garmisch.
She took a downhill in Bad Kleinkirchheim, Austria, a year ago before undergoing knee surgery in the offseason. After that, the 31-year-old Austrian has been unable to get used to her new equipment following the rule change that required different size and radius of skis.
The knee isn't the problem. "It doesn't prevent me from performing well," Goergl said. "Three months before Garmisch, I had therapy for a knee injury as well and I was top fit at the worlds." The new equipment, however, still doesn't suit her style of skiing.
"I am just not feeling well," said Goergl, who finished 21st, 29th and 15th in downhill and 14th and 18th in super-G races this season. "The set-up, the timing, the pushing, it all doesn't fit at the moment. I am working hard to get back the right feeling."
A ski-mad nation, Austria has high expectations from their home world championships. Not that it puts pressure on Goergl. "The worlds are in the back of my mind obviously," she said. "To me, it's only important that I am satisfied with my skiing. The rest doesn't matter. I don't care what people think or expect. It's all about doing my thing — racing well."
Despite Goergl's lack of success this season, as a two-time world champion she doesn't have to worry about her starting place in Schladming. Olympic champion Fischbacher, however, has yet to qualify after finishing 31st, 28th and 27th in downhill and 17th and 25th in super-G. But Mandl said she will be on the team "if she skies like she normally does."
In the World Cup, Fischbacher hasn't been on a podium in three years and her last win was Feb. 28, 2009, in Bansko, Bulgaria. "I have not been completely free of injuries for five years," the 27-year-old Fischbacher said, who most recently struggled with knee and back problems.
"It annoyed me. It got into my head," she said. "I even started asking myself, why I should be doing this any longer." In mid-December, Mandl gave Fischbacher some time off to free her mind and get back her joy in skiing. Fischbacher took some rest and went powder skiing in the Arlberg resort in Austria — and felt much better afterward.
"You can't expect miracles, but I am enjoying it again and I want to get back to full strength," she said. Mandl said he was "positive" about Fischbacher's improvement. "If she manages to bring her confidence into the races again, a lot can happen," the coach said. "With Lizzy (Goergl), the problems are different."
Mandl said Goergl "works too hard" and therefore "fails to relax" from time to time. "She always wants the maximum," he said. "Together with the coaches, she must find out how to get as strong as possible before the world championships. She obviously hasn't forgotten how to ski, but she's too insecure and indecisive."
Further adding to the team's woes was recent bad weather, which prevented training in Schladming. The course has been affected by mild temperatures and lots of rain, which damaged the top layer of snow in the lower section.
"The rain has destroyed our training plans for Schladming," Mandl said. "They are working to get the slope ready again and we surely won't be able to train there before the worlds. That's it for our home advantage."