ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - Gold medal favorite Maria Hoefl-Riesch accused organizers of slowing the women’s downhill course too much on Friday, a day after fears were raised about the safety of some sections.
Thursday’s training run had to be stopped and re-started while snow was shaved off a jump near the finish of the Rosa Khutor piste, but the German, who races on men’s skis, said the latest changes had turned part of the three-kilometer layout into “not a downhill” course.
“I think it’s a bit over the top to move the gate around before the jump they reduced yesterday, and add even more curves to the track, because it wasn’t fast anyway yesterday,” Hoefl-Riesch said after cruising down in third gear.
“The jump was not a good one, but the pace wasn’t too fast. But now they’ve reduced the pace even more, so that part is not a downhill. It’s too slow - not a downhill.”
The women’s course has been under the spotlight since course officials had to reduce a jump on Thursday, and the glistening ribbon of white that snakes its way to the finish area looked comfortable for the world’s top racers on Friday.
Many of the leading contenders for gold, such as downhill World Cup leader Hoefl-Riesch, American Julia Mancuso and former world champion Elizabeth Goergl, had plenty in reserve as they experimented with racing lines and ski set-ups.
Swiss Fabienne Suter was the first woman down, and her time of 1:42.70 remained top of the timesheets, though it was difficult to read much into Friday’s action.
Most of the talk was about the course, and that jump.
“Super easy” was American Laurenne Ross’s opinion after completing her third run, having been given two opportunities to sample it because of Thursday’s re-start.
Ross admitted she had been “intimidated” after being launched off a blind jump on Thurday, but, like Hoefl-Riesch, thought maybe some of the thrill had been taken away from one of the course’s toughest sections.
“Almost no air today. I slowed down a little bit because I hit some soft snow coming into it, but it was a lot easier,” said Ross, who is vying with Jacqueline Wiles and Leanne Smith for two of the remaining spots in the American downhill team.
“I like air, but whatever!” she added.
Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather, daughter of double Olympic gold medalist Hanni Wenzel and one of the most consistent downhillers this season, was second quickest but was also disappointed with the bottom section of the course.
“It was flattened too much, but I think it will be improving every day and it will be faster on the day of the race,” she told reporters.
Suter, fifth in Vancouver four years ago, was happy enough, especially after securing her place in the Swiss team for the downhill.
”It is a technical run,“ she said. ”There are many places where you can make mistakes, it’s steep, there are curves.
“I like it but it’s a difficult track. You have to be very alert, good on your skis. You have to attack and control as well as you can.”
The women’s downhill takes place on Wednesday, although the downhill leg of the super-combined is on Monday and will use the same course from a lowered start gate.
Editing by Stephen Wood