ROSA KHUTOR, Russia — The second day of downhill training commenced on the women’s Olympic course with reports from the hill overwhelmingly positive.
There are high hopes on the U.S. women’s speed team, which struggled in many ways in the early part of the winter. But with season-best results in Cortina d’Ampezzo two weeks ago, the group seems to be firing on all cylinders heading into the Games.
With a time of 1 minute, 42.70 seconds Fabienne Suter was fastest and earned herself one of the coveted starting spots for Switzerland, followed by Tina Weirather and Anna Fenninger.
“I’m really relieved that I have made it. It’s always a certain kind of pressure which runs with you and is on your mind. Today was very important for me,” said Suter. “There are two or three spots where I didn’t run well, and I’m going to have to examine exactly what I’ll want to do differently there.”
The Americans weren’t too far back from the top; Stacey Cook continued her hot streak and led the team in sixth.
“The course is awesome. It’s really fun, especially out of the start, the first pitch,” said Cook. “You get the steep pitch; you get this uphill, sidehill and this small jump, and then you get into another challenging pitch. That section has kind of been giving me trouble. I keep making some mistakes in there. Then, the bottom suits me a little bit more, I guess, with the flats in the terrain — that’s kind of more my element. Coming into the finish is another really fun pitch pitch again.
“I (am) definitely (skiing) better (after training here) the last two days. And I think that’s a big focus, just getting more comfortable and actually skiing better — not really focusing on the small line things quite yet.”
Julia Mancuso, who has emerged as the major focus of the media in Sochi in the absence of Lindsey Vonn, finished 10th and appeared calm and generally excited to be skiing in Russia. Like Cook, she also recently enjoyed season-best results in Cortina.
“It’s a good course because you have to be precise,” said Mancuso. “You can’t get away with really anything on there. You really have to nail every section and there’s a lot of flat and steep — there’s nothing really medium — and the speed feels high. … The steep parts are definitely where I need to improve.”
Mancuso said she is less concerned about tactics at this point and more concerned with “skiing well. … It’s really more about skiing in a good position and trusting (yourself) and looking for speed everywhere.”
A midseason change to her boots is among the reasons for her recent improvement and confidence, according to the three-time Olympic medalist.
“I’ve just been changing back and forth between ski boots. … Equipment is always a difficult thing to figure out because in the summer nothing’s ever exactly like the winter,” said Mancuso. “I guess I just made the mistake of assuming too many things at the beginning of the season. Because it is such an important season, I was just changing too many things. … My boots are a little big for me, but it’s the model that most of the men use in downhill, and I believe they’re the best model to use … They fit me and it’s more important to be in a better position. You just cant’t sit back at all.
“(The good results) are mostly about confidence,” Mancuso added. “It just took putting everything together. That’s really all that changed. Skiing is such a mental game … That’s what I needed to do, was forget about everything else and step up to the plate.”
Asked if this could potentially be her final time competing at the Olympics and if that’s something on her mind, Mancuso said, “It just depends. It changes all the time. I think it has a lot to do with results. It’s tough when you’re not doing well. At the same time, it’s really fun. I love to ski. It doesn’t go through my mind here (in Sochi). I’m just enjoying the moment and enjoying the races.”
Finishing 12th, C-Teamer Jackie Wiles certainly spiced up the conversation as far as selecting the U.S. Olympic downhill race team, for which only four women are able to start.
“Today was way better than yesterday,” said Wiles, who was all smiles in the finish area. “I nailed my line better, so I was put in spots where I could make a cleaner turn and I was in a better position the whole way through.”
With four healthy members on the A Team for speed (Cook, Mancuso, Ross and Leanne Smith) and also Wiles currently training at the Olympic venue, there certainly haven’t been any final decisions made regarding starters.
“They’re going to take the best four for race day,” said Wiles. “The training run tomorrow will be the test. We’ll see who steps up then and that will decide. … It’s unreal. I keep having to pinch myself. … I cant’t believe I’m here right now. It’s crazy. Last year at this time, I wasn’t even on the (national) team. … I’m trying to take it all in.”
Ross and Smith would theoretically be the two women who could potentially be threatened to lose a start at these Games. They finished Friday’s training 23rd and 34th, respectively, although Smith is reportedly battling sinus problems, according to a team spokesman.
“It’s going well,” said Ross. “The course is in really great shape. The snow is pretty much perfect, and it’s fast, and it’s really fun. … It’s really hard. It’s getting a little bit icier every day, but it’s still really responsive and I think the preparation has been awesome.
“I feel really good,” she added. “I’m getting more and more comfortable every day. I think my skiing is improving and I think the team, in general, the women’s side, we’re all getting some more confidence and we still believe that we’re fast. We’re hanging in there and it’s go time, so we’re ready.”
For the Canadians, Larisa Yurkiw failed to finish after crashing into the netting. She suffered a minor ankle sprain but will resume training on schedule. Marie-Michele Gagnon will forgo racing the downhill this week, but skied to a 22nd-place result, scoping the course for the super G and super combined events.
“I’m glad I made it all the way down, made all the gates today because yesterday there was a bit of confusion on my part and the whole staff,” said Gagnon who came to a complete stop in Thursday’s run after being signaled by a courseworker. “It’s technical and it never stops. There’s never a moment where you’re just going in a straight line and that’s it. There’s not really any gliding turns and I think that should suit me.”
|Rank||Bib||FIS Code||Name||Year||Nation||Total Time||Diff.|
|7||2||425880||SEJERSTED Lotte Smiseth||1991||NOR||1:43.55||+0.85|
|25||20||495318||RUIZ CASTILLO Carolina||1981||SPA||1:44.78||+2.08|
|49||50||35089||SIMARI BIRKNER Macarena||1984||ARG||1:48.94||+6.24|
|50||53||465098||CAILL Ania Monica||1995||ROU||1:50.50||+7.80|
|Did not start 1st run|
|Did not finish 1st run|