Portugal Colonial - Racers revel in nerve-racking debut on untested Olympic downhill

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Racers revel in nerve-racking debut on untested Olympic downhill
Racers revel in nerve-racking debut on untested Olympic downhill

Racers revel in nerve-racking debut on untested Olympic downhill

Intimidating, stressful, nerve-racking, but great fun: just some of the reactions of the ski racers after Thursday's first men's downhill training run on the untested man-made Olympic speed slope.

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Competitors should have had come into the Beijing Games on the back of two World Cup races on the slope, but both events were cancelled due to Covid-19 restrictions in China.

Instead they had to make do with video sessions to glean every nugget of invaluable information from watching Chinese racers on the course last year, a quick course pre-inspection and throwing some caution to the wind in the first of three training runs ahead of Sunday's downhill medal race.

"It's different to what we're used to on the World Cup," said in-form Norwegian Aleksander Aamodt Kilde.

"It's narrower, snaky. With the jumps, terrain and snow, there's a really nice flow."

Austria's Vincent Kriechmayr, who won both downhill and super-G gold at the 2021 world championships in Cortina, said the course was "amazing".

"The snow conditions are some of the best I've ever seen," he said of the artificial snow used to create the piste in Yanqing.

"First impressions are very good. It's not bumpy but it's not easy, nearly every section is difficult. It's the first time for everybody here, so nobody knows about the track and the course setting."

- 'Fun to ski' -

Switzerland's World Cup overall leader Marco Odermatt agreed, saying it was a "really great slope, but one that doesn't really compare to the classics" on the World Cup circuit such as Kitzbuehel or Wengen.

"For everybody it is new, us athletes as well as the coaches. It's a big challenge for the whole team to find a perfect set-up.

"There are many blind gates, so now it's a question of finding the good line."

Kriechmayr's Austrian teammate Matthias Mayer, who won super-G gold in Pyeongchang after downhill gold in Sochi, admitted he had felt "a little nervous" in the startgate.

"I missed two gates at the top so there's a lot to learn for tomorrow!

"There are many guys who can be good here, the guys who've been really fast on the last World Cup runs."

The snow, he said, was like that found in North America, "very hard".

American Bryce Bennett agreed, saying it was "pretty similar to the set-up we've got back home".

"It was a little intimidating, we had no idea about the course," he said. "Today was more getting a feeling, getting more comfortable getting speed in places."

Bennett's teammate Travis Ganong said it was "great to get a first look".

"Every downhill is uniquely different, this is a version we haven't really seen. It's very fun to ski."

One of the fastest down the first training run on the 3.1km-long "Rock" course, starting at an altitude of 2,175 metres and featuring a vertical drop of 894 metres, was Italian veteran Christof Innerhofer.

"I like a challenge and I like taking risk when I ski," Innerhofer said. "It's a new slope and you don't know what's coming next."

France's Alexis Pinturault said questions on the artificially-made snow were now irrelevant.

"I'm here to race. That question of snow needed to be asked before, at the moment of the attribution of the Games," he said.

Reigning double world speed champion Kriechmayr agreed, saying: "It's not important for me. I need the snow on the track and that's it."