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Sweden's skiing sensation hopes for glory

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12:11 CET+01:00
Sweden's latest skiing sensation has a long way to go if he is to hope to emulate either legendary compatriot Ingemar Stenmark or Italian Alberto Tomba.

But Jens Byggmark, 21, has already shown that he has what it takes to bring slalom glory to the hosts of the world ski championships.

Two-time World Cup winner Anja Pärson has, despite a mediocre season in the World Cup, been hogging all the headlines in the run-up to the February 3-18 competition.

But that's only natural for the Olympic slalom champion - who has a mountain, the 'Anjabacken', and a day named after her in her native Sweden.

Markus Larsson and Andre Myhrer have been flying the flags for the men up till now, but by the end of the championships the Swedes could have a new hero on their hands.

Byggmark made a scorching entry on what is his first World Cup season less than two weeks ago when he won two slaloms in a row at Kitzbuhel, Austria.

Days later, he proved those performances were no fluke by finishing second behind Austria's Olympic slalom and giant slalom champion Benjamin Raich at Schladming, Austria.

It propelled him to the top of the World Cup slalom standings, where he leads Raich by 58 points and another Austrian, Mario Matt, by 103 points.

Byggmark, who has work to do on his giant slalom technique, and even more to do on his downhill, insists there's an explanation for his relatively sudden emergence.

"I had a fantastic year on the European Cup last year, and we're fortunate enough to have good coaches," said Byggmark, who placed sixth in his debut World Cup race in Finland.

"But also my self-confidence has been growing from competition to competition."

Byggmark might appear to have an advantage in hailing from Tärnaby, the town in Lapland that is the home of Pärson.

More notably, it is also the home of Stenmark - who with an unequalled 86 World Cup victories is regarded as one of the world's all-time skiing greats. There is also a mountain named the 'Ingemarbacken'.

But whatever his heritage, Byggmark's success is already beginning to have positive effects.

Pärson admitted a few days ago: "When Jens started doing well in the slalom the younger skiers at the club had another skier to look up to.

"Now that he's winning races, they might have to think about having a Jens Byggmark day too!"

Byggmark will not begin his quest for medals here until Thursday when he competes in the super-combined, which comprises a downhill and a slalom.

But after his recent World Cup podiums, it's in the slalom that the Swede

will be looking for gold.

"It's unbelievable to me that now I'm one of the favourites (for the slalom)," said Byggmark, who will be up against Raich, Matt and a few other elder slalom statesmen on February 17.

"I'm not sure how to handle the pressure, but I will be trying my best."

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