After almost two weeks of buildup and anticipation, the Olympic women’s downhill is finally here. Barring any delays, racing is set to kick off at 11:00am KT on Wednesday, Feb. 21, or 9:00pm EST on Tuesday, Feb. 20, for those of us watching in the U.S.
The women’s track at the Jeongseon Alpine Center shares the same top and bottoms sections as the men’s course that was used last week, but diverges from the men’s track in the middle before rejoining on the bottom and sharing the same finish. Although the men’s track drew some criticism from racers for being “too easy” for a real Olympic downhill, the women, on the other hand, have been largely silent during the training runs and American Lindsey Vonn even described the Jeongseon track as a “downhiller’s downhill” during last season’s test event.
Three training runs have taken place ahead of Wednesday’s race and the fastest women on two skis are now waiting their chance to etch their names on the pages of ski racing history. Will the pre-race favorites pull it out or will we see another monumental upset like Czech skier Ester Ledecka’s stunning super-G performance?
Who’s in the hunt?
If there is a clear-cut favorite heading into race day, it would be 2010 Olympic downhill champion Vonn. With momentum on her side after sweeping the downhill races in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, and capturing her 80th and 81st career World Cup wins just before the Games, The American Speed Queen has her sights set squarely one one thing and one thing only: her second Olympic downhill gold.
“It’s all or nothing,” says Vonn. “There is really no reason to be nervous or think about pressure or expectation because either I win or I lose. If I am nervous I am going to lose anyway, so what’s the point?”
Vonn could join German great Katja Seizinger as the only women with multiple Olympic gold medals in the women’s downhill. Seizinger won at Lillehammer 1994 and Nagano 1998. Vonn could also break the record for oldest female medallist in alpine skiing at the Winter Games, set by Austria’s Michaela Dorfmeister at 32 years and 332 days when she won the women’s super-G at Torino 2006.
Aside from Vonn, Italian Sofia Goggia has emerged as a real threat in the speed events this season and she also swept last season’s test event, winning both races. Although she suffered some bad luck in the super-G and is nursing a tweaked knee from a crash in Cortina, Italy last month, Goggia will push through the pain and give it her all.
“Lately I haven’t been that good,” she admits. “I have been struggling a little bit with my left knee after the crash I had in the second race in Cortina, but still it allows me to ski. When I have to do the stairs in the morning it is difficult for me, but in skiing it’s good. When I push off from the starting gate the world disappears, it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t count if you have pain or not. It just counts how you ski and I know I can do this, even though I am not so perfect.”
Austrian Ramona Siebenhofer did not finish worse than fourth in the training runs and posted the fastest time in the third and final run. Although the 26-year-old only has one World Cup podium to her name, if last week’s super-G is any indicator of what’s to come, we could be in for a surprise.
Switzerland’s Michelle Gisin was also runner-up in the final training run and was able to get in some tech-talk with American star turned broadcaster Bode Miller ahead of Wednesday’s race. Oh, and her older sister Dominique is the gold medalist from the Sochi 2014 downhill, too. Gisin at the very least has Olympic pedigree on her side.
If I had a dollar for everyone in the start who wants to meet or say “hi” to Bode Miller, I could afford the iCloud storage needed to keep the picture and videos of him with fans. Today, one of my favorites @michellegisin asked @millerbode , in the start and on my mic, that if she did well would he agree to meet. She was second today. Not only did they meet, she got a little unsolicited tutelage on the line. Let it not be said that NBC does not equitably treat athletes from all nations. @nbcolympics
The American Downhillers
There was a lot of speculation swirling around the American women as no less than seven athletes took part in the training runs. With only four spots available on race day, the training runs were used as a time trial to determine who would start Wednesday’s race.
The Americans are without Jaqueline Wiles, who suffered traumatic leg and knee injuries after crashing out in Garmisch earlier in the month.
After Mikaela Shiffrin announced that she would skip the downhill in favor of further preparations ahead of the alpine combined, the American starters were set. Vonn, Laurenne Ross, Breezy Johnson, and Alice Mckennis will suit up for the Stars and Stripes and go for Olympic gold.
“It’s been very bittersweet,” explains Johnson. “All of our teammates were really close and it’s really hard coming to these events, we almost prefer regular World Cups just because we love being able to be out there every day and everybody can do their best. I think everyone deserved a spot, everyone earned a spot, but only four could race. I hope that I can do my country proud and I hope that I can do my teammates proud because they deserve that much.”
To see full downhill training results, click here.
Who are your picks for the women’s Olympic downhill? Let us know in the comments below!