In Germany's winter sports capital of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the world's best alpine skiers are vying for world championship gold. Local Olympian Maria Riesch is among the host town's best shots for a medal.
Riesch hopes to see herself back on the podium
When it comes to winter sports, the German capital is without a doubt the Bavarian town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
The town, 90 kilometers (56 miles) south of Munich and in the shadow of Germany's tallest mountain, the 2,962-meter (9,718 feet) Zugspitze, hosted the Winter Olympics in 1936 and is hosting the Alpine Ski World Championship for the second time starting on Monday.
Thirty-three years ago, when Garmisch-Partenkirchen hosted its first ski world championship, most of the German medal hopefuls of today weren't even born yet - but Germany had its share of stars back then, too.
In 1978, the Germans took home one gold and four silver medals. Irene Eplle-Waigel, a silver medalist in the downhill event in that world championship, is happy to see the event return to Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
"That's a once-in-a-lifetime event," she said. "In front of a home crowd, who only want for you to win a medal."
"The enthusiasm of the town was phenomenal," said ski legend Christian Neureuther, who also hails from Garmisch-Partenkirchen. "We were lucky to have good weather the whole time. And we had a lot of German success."
This year, Neureuther's son Felix is among the Germans vying for a medal. In the current season, the 26-year-old slalom specialist has yet to make a podium, but is in good form. And last year at the final race of the season in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Neureuther took first.
Neureuther could surprise again in Garmisch
The pressure on Maria Riesch, also of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, is slightly higher. Riesch currently has a slim lead over American Lindsey Vonn in the overall World Cup rankings and has her eye on a gold medal at the world championship. Germany's 2010 Sportswoman of the Year is seen as a favorite in several disciplines.
"There are high expectations from the home crowd, but I also have high expectations of myself," said Riesch, who won two gold medals at the Vancouver Olympics last year. "It would be amazing to crown this season - which has so far been nearly perfect for me - with a win at the world championship. That's my dream, to stand up there on the podium."
Olympic giant slalom gold-medalist Viktoria Rebensburg and slalom specialist Kathrin Hölzl are also seen as potential German medalists.
"A certain number of medals are expected," said German alpine ski director Wolfgang Maier. "We're counting on three: two from the women and one from the men."
All told, about 8,000 athletes, trainers and team officials are expected in Garmisch-Partenkirchen for the world championship, along with 2,000 journalists. The opening ceremony is on Monday, followed by the first day of competition on Tuesday. The world championship wraps up on February 20.
Riesch came home from Vancouver with two golds
The backdrop of the world championship includes one of the most notorious ski runs in the alpine skiing world. The Kandahar run contains the steepest stretch of race course in the alpine skiing circuit. Known as the free fall, one part of the slope has a grade of 92 percent.
"It's pretty impressive when you look down on it from above," said Stefan Stankalla, who was among the best German downhill skiers in the late 1990s. "It's even more impressive when you see the skiers can fly as far as 80 meters (262 feet) when they go down that part at around 100 kmh (62 mph)."
Now, Stankalla is part of the World Championship organizing committee. He says the Gudiberg slalom course is also a highlight of the event.
"The Gudiberg is also steep and difficult," he said. "Spectators can see the racers the entire time from start to finish."
A controversy regarding the use of private land near the Kandahar run was resolved just in time for the world championship. However, a similar argument regarding land-use for Munich's proposed bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympics continues on the sidelines.
Several landowners in Garmisch-Partenkirchen have firmly stated their intent to not make their land available for the Olympics, but Munich's bid committee has said it can still carry out its plans without their consent.
Munich is bidding for the 2018 Olympics along with Annecy, France, and Pyeongchang, South Korea.
The Olympic bid will be awarded by the International Olympic Committee on July 6 in South Africa.
Author: Arnulf Boettcher / mz
Editor: Martin Kuebler