Albrecht airlifted following crash

Updated: January 22, 2009, 1:01 PM ET
Associated Press

[+] EnlargeDaniel Albrecht
Samuel Kubani/AFP/Getty ImagesDaniel Albrecht crashed near the finish line of the Streif downhill course on Thursday.
KITZBUEHEL, Austria -- Swiss skier Daniel Albrecht was put in an induced coma Thursday after crashing in downhill training on the legendary Streif course, one of the most dangerous on the World Cup circuit.

Albrecht lost control after he flew through the air for about 40 yards, landed on his back and came to a stop near the finish line. He lost consciousness and received medical attention for about 20 minutes before being taken by helicopter to a hospital in nearby St. Johann.

"Daniel is in a stable condition now. He woke up briefly but doctors placed him in an artificial coma," Swiss team spokeswoman Diana Faeh said. "He will be transported to a hospital in Innsbruck for further examinations on his injuries."

Albrecht had a lung contusion and swelling of the brain, Faeh said. The induced coma is designed to allow the brain to recover.

The 25-year-old Albrecht is the super-combined world champion and has four career World Cup victories -- three in giant slalom and one in super-combi. He has two giant slalom wins this season -- at Soelden, Austria, and Alta Badia, Italy -- and is eighth in the overall World Cup standings.

"It was a very bad crash," Swiss teammate Didier Cuche said. "Daniel was having a great run but was forced into a backward position too much at the jump."

The crash was similar to that of Scott Macartney's last year on the Streif course. The American suffered a brain contusion after slamming his head on the snow and missed the rest of the season.

[+] EnlargeDaniel Albrecht
AP Photo/Giovanni AulettaAlbrecht, on stretcher, was given medical attention for 20 minutes before he was airlifted to an area hospital.
Organizers lowered the final jump of the course after Macartney's crash and clearly marked the natural wave so racers would be able to better time their jump.

"We've done everything that we reasonably could do to make it a safe course," FIS race director Guenther Hujara said. "The only way to avoid crashes is not to do a downhill race at all. We just can't avoid all crashes -- this was out of our hands."

In Wednesday's first training session ahead of this weekend's Hahnenkamm races, Austria's Michael Walchhofer almost fell backward at the same point where Albrecht crashed.

"The wind pushed the front of my skis up so I was lifted in the air," Walchhofer said. "That was quite extreme, I totally underestimated that jump."

Few people underestimate the intimidating Streif course in Kitzbuehel, though. It has a mean reputation among racers, a 2.1-mile adventure with a 2,828-foot vertical drop full of bumps, turns and jumps that's as much a mental test as a physical one.

"You know things can go wrong," said U.S. downhill racer Andrew Weibrecht, who described the course as "frightening ... If you accept it, it's a lot easier to work through. It keeps you on your toes."

American downhill racer Marco Sullivan has taken on the role of mentor to a number of skiers who are seeing the course for the first time. This is Sullivan's fourth visit, and he knows from experience how challenging the run can be.

"My first time here, I crashed in the first training run and didn't get to race," Sullivan said. "It's scary. It's intimidating because of all the stories about how famous the course is. But when you get here and you realize that when you ski well and stick to your tactics you always do, you can make it down with no problem. It's more in the mind."

Albrecht's crash interrupted training for about 30 minutes. Bode Miller of the United States wound up with the fastest time when practice resumed, racing down the Streif course in 1 minute, 55.95 seconds to beat defending champion Cuche by 0.26 seconds.

Klaus Kroell was third, 1.64 seconds behind Miller; fellow Austrian and downhill champion Walchhofer was fifth, 1.74 seconds off the pace.

The 69th edition of the traditional Hahnenkamm races starts with a super-G on Friday, followed by a downhill on Saturday and a slalom on Sunday. The event is a traditional highlight of the men's World Cup season, often drawing crowds of 80,000 to the challenging course at Austria's most famous ski resort.

"There is so much buildup from a young age," Weibrecht said. "And finally, to actually get up there and look at it from the start, that is the hardest part. It's so steep up there, you see the Mousefall [jump] and nothing after that."


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press