ROSA KHUTOR, Russia — Austria’s Matthias Mayer was the fastest skier in the second downhill training run at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center on Feb. 7, clocking a time of 2:06.51 on the long, demanding Olympic course. Switzerland’s Carlo Janka was second, although he missed a gate, and Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway third.
“The jumps have increased from 10 to 15 meters,” Svindal said of the course that was running quicker today. “Anymore, and that’s not good.”
In one of several races within a race today for various national teams, U.S. skier Steven Nyman finished 18th ahead of two teammates, Jared Goldberg (22nd) and Erik Fisher (23rd), good enough to earn him the fourth and final starting spot for the U.S. in the Olympic downhill.
American coaches made the choice a few hours after the race, having watched videos of the three skiers’ runs, and deciding that Nyman would join Bode Miller (sixth today, despite a big mistake above the Bear’s Brow jump, after leading the field in yesterday’s first training run), Travis Ganong (tied with Nyman in 18th) and Marco Sullivan (35th).
After his run, Nyman hoped he had done enough to earn the Olympic start, while acknowledging that his teammates had skied well.
“I’ve never worked harder,” he said of this season leading up to the Olympics, “and I’ve never been in better shape.” The skiers had been told that if the fastest of the three ended up in the top 15, that person would get the spot; otherwise, it would be up to coaches’ discretion.
The race took place under very benign conditions, with blue skies, cool-but-not-cold temperatures (just below freezing), and almost no wind. Which was just fine for the skiers, since the course is plenty challenging even in the best weather. Perhaps the longest Olympic downhill ever, it’s water-injected for much of its length with four major jumps and plenty of high-speed turns.
Miller’s mistake came on the Bear’s Brow jump, about two-thirds of the way down the course. He’d had trouble there in his speedy run on Thursday, too.
“I wanted to try coming in with more speed and higher today,” Miller said. “And it just failed, so it’s good that I can eliminate that as an option. It was obviously a good time today, considering that mistake.”
He said he was pleased with how things have gone in the two runs so far. “I definitely know that winning a training run doesn’t matter much,” Miller said of his sixth-place finish today. “I think I have a good process of how to build for a race to get ready.”
Miller added that ski prep for this course is “a huge factor. Everyone has to make sacrifices. You want your skis sharp, but you want them as dull as you can possibly have them and still make it down, because the sharpness definitely digs in and causes over-skiing and deceleration. So you’ve got to balance it out.
“You can get away with dull skis if everything goes right,” he noted, but not “if something goes wrong and you have to make a dramatic recovery, like I did today above Bear Jump. I came into the jump at a really awkward angle for that turn, and had no chance of getting a grip on that stuff, at that angle. Given space and shape, I would have been fine. So we won’t tune the skis differently because of that. But you know, you can’t make those kinds of mistakes when it’s icy like this.”
Miller said that his left knee, the one he spent last season rehabbing, was “a little sore” after today’s run. “It’s okay,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like it’s getting any worse. It’s just a rattly course and there’s a lot of bouncing around, and when you’re bouncing around at my age (36) it doesn’t feel very good.”
Travis Ganong also talked about the toughness of the course, saying it’s “unrelenting, I mean, top to bottom, it never gives up. I’d say it’s similar to Bormio, in that it’s really a consistent pitch the whole way down, and long turns back and forth, and really tiring.” Bormio and Wengen, he said, are “known for how you get really tired and by the bottom your legs are just completely spent. So, for sure you’re feeling your legs before the second to last jump, and then you’re just holding on. It’s physically really demanding, probably the most demanding hill I’ve skied.”
And he loves the jumps. “Every time you go off the ground is amazing,” Ganong said. “You feel like you’re flying, like in a flying dream or whatever. That’s kind of what the sensation’s like. Or like skiing powder. It’s just effortless, weightless, you’re flying through the air, going 80 miles an hour, it’s just an amazing feeling. The jumps are actually a lot smaller than they were last year here, so it’s kind of a bummer in that respect, I liked the big jumps last time. But they’re still really fun. I mean, it’s hard to explain the feeling of going off a big jump like that, going 80 miles an hour, flying 80 meters. Yeah, it’s special. You guys,” he said to a mostly middle-aged crowd of reporters, “I would say you should go try it, but you might want to build up to that…”
The Austrian team, with five athletes vying for two starting spots in Sunday’s race, also used today’s training as a shootout. Otmar Streidinger just lost out to teammate Georg Streitberger by .06 seconds for the final spot while Klaus Kroell secured his starting position as the fourth fastest on the squad. Kroell and Streitberger join Mayer and Max Franz, the seventh fastest today, in an effort to break a 14-year Austrian dry spell in the men’s Olympic downhill.
A third and final training run is scheduled on Saturday morning at 11:00 A.M. local time, ahead of Sunday’s race.
|Rank||Bib||FIS Code||Name||Year||Nation||Total Time||Diff.|
|3||19||421328||SVINDAL Aksel Lund||1982||NOR||2:07.06||+0.55|
|24||40||422139||KILDE Aleksander Aamodt||1992||NOR||2:08.92||+2.41|
|37||39||491151||DE LA CUESTA Paul||1988||SPA||2:10.11||+3.60|
|44||52||110324||VON APPEN Henrik||1994||CHI||2:12.67||+6.16|
|54||54||30149||SIMARI BIRKNER Cristian Javier||1980||ARG||2:16.37||+9.86|
|Did not start 1st run|
|74||30246||BIRKNER KETELHOHN Jorge F.||1990||ARG|
|70||192504||MERMILLOD BLONDIN Thomas||1984||FRA|
|Did not finish 1st run|
|63||460071||ACHIRILOAIE Ioan Valeriu||1990||ROU|