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First top 20 downhill for AJ Bear

18 December 2005

Australian downhiller AJ Bear has skied to the first top 20 World Cup result of his career, finishing in 17th place in Val Gardena, Italy.

Bear backed up his 27th place in super G the day before with a performance that emphatically demonstrated he has recovered physically and mentally from the knee reconstruction he had towards the end of last season.

It was the best World Cup performance by an Australian male since Steven Lee skied to 14th in Beaver Creek in 1988.

The New South Wales 28-year-old has had an unhappy relationship with Val Gardena, blowing his knee out on the Saslong course two years ago and crashing again last season.

His time of 1 minute 29.11 seconds, on a course shortened by fog and bad weather, was just 1.12 seconds off the winning time of Liechtenstein skier Marco Buechel, and .82 of a second outside a podium place.

German skier Michael Walchhofer, the World Cup downhill champion from last season, took the silver medal, with the bronze going to Erik Guay of Canada.

Craig Branch, the other Australian in the field, and 14 other skiers lower in the start order did not get a chance to perform, as the race was halted due to deteriorating conditions.

Bear's result was the third of three top 80 per cent results he needs to qualify for selection to the Australian team for Torino 2006, assuming no other skier is eligible.

Under the three tier qualification policy, it is also the first of three top 60 per cent results he will need if Branch manages three top 60 performances in the remaining three downhill events before the qualification cut-off date of January 24.

The next event is scheduled for December 29 in Bormio, Italy, the venue that claimed Bear's knee last season.

Olympic Winter Institute

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