Road To The Olympic Games


Erik Guay critical of downhill course at ski worlds

Defending champion Erik Guay of Mont-Tremblant, Que., posted Thursday's fourth-fastest training run for the men's downhill at the alpine ski world championships in Schladming, Austria, but criticized the course, calling calling one of the jumps "way too big."

Canadian 4th in training run

Erik Guay of Mont-Tremblant, Que., skis Thursday's dowhill training run in Schladming, Austria. (Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Defending champion Erik Guay of Canada criticized the men's downhill course at the world ski championships after training on Thursday, calling one of the jumps "way too big."

Guay, from Mont-Tremblant, Que., said he hurt his back while landing after the 30-metre jump.

"That's ridiculous," Guay said. "Any course you should be able to push in the first training run and not have to worry about injuries like that."

Not the length, but the height of the jump was causing problems because racers land on a flat part of the slope, according to the Canadian.

"There's a little bit of a takeoff," said Guay, who called the rest of the Planai course "pretty fun."

"As long as it's a low flight and you land without big impact you can go 60-70 metres and no issue — we have that at other places in the World Cup," Guay said. "It's just the landing when it's too flat that everything comes into your legs and your back as shock absorbers."

Super-G world champion Ted Ligety, who will race downhill in the super-combined event on Monday, shared Guay's criticism.

"There are a couple of really big jumps onto really flat landings," the American said. "I'm always for big jumps, but big jumps with flat landings are not that sweet.

"It's pretty harsh landing over those jumps."

More racers were unhappy with course conditions for the opening training, in which Hannes Reichelt of Austria posted the fastest time ahead of Italians Dominik Paris and Christof Innerhofer.

After overnight snowfall, the icy course was partly covered by spots of soft snow.

"It's tough, mostly due to the conditions," Aksel Lund Svindal said. "It's icy at some places and there are a lot of places where there is still a lot of bad, fresh snow that shouldn't be there.

"They'll have a lot of work to do on that."

The Norwegian, trailing leader Paris by three points in this season's World Cup downhill standings, expected a tough race.

"There's not that much gliding," Svindal said. "There are so many rolls that it doesn't feel like gliding."

'OK for a first run'

Reichelt came down the 3.3-kilometre course in two minutes 2.98 seconds. Paris was 0.11 behind and Innerhofer, the 2011 silver medallist , trailed Reichelt by 0.35.

Guay and Svindal finished fourth and fifth respectively, while last season's World Cup downhill champion Klaus Kroell was sixth. The rest of the field trailed Reichelt by more than a second.

A second training is scheduled for Friday, followed by the race on Saturday.

The course will be shortened on Friday as training takes place in between the two runs of the women's super-combined, which uses the same finish area.

The men will end their training at the point where the final intermediate time of the regular downhill is measured, effectively shortening the downhill run by just over 20 seconds.

"I wasn't clean at some spots, but it was OK for a first run," Reichelt said. "I tried to push a bit as we won't have the chance to ski the final part tomorrow."

The steep and turning finish section of the course is the most demanding part. Thursday's training was the only chance to ski that part prior to the race.

"There I made a mistake and I wasn't skiing very well," Paris said. "It's pretty difficult."

Kroell said it's hard to pick the right line at the bottom section.

"It gets icier and bumpier further down the course," the Austrian said. "And the gates are set narrower there."

'Coming here as a favourite'

Austria's Regina Sterz led women's downhill training for the second consecutive day in Schladming.

Sterz clocked one minute 53.01 seconds down the Streicher course on Thursday. Teammate Anna Fenninger was second, 0.16 behind and Marianne Kaufmann-Abderhalden of Switzerland was third, 0.36 back.

With Lindsey Vonn out following her crash in the super-G, Stacey Cook was the top American in eighth, with Julia Mancuso 12th. Another American, Alice McKennis, fell but did not appear to be seriously injured.

Swiss skier Fraenzi Aufdenblatten also failed to finish.

Overall World Cup leader Tina Maze was 10th.

Sterz finished a career-best fifth in a World Cup downhill in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, last month.

The women's super-combined is scheduled for Friday followed by another training session on Saturday and the downhill race on Sunday. Maze is comfortably handling being the racer to beat in the women's super-combined.

"I know how to deal with the pressure of coming here as a favourite," she said.

A second straight gold medal is in her sights after becoming the first Slovenian medallist in a speed race in the super-G on Tuesday.

Maze has been enjoying a standout World Cup season, including victory in the only super-combined so far.

"I would be proud of two gold medals," said Maze, who could win a fifth career worlds medal. "But [Alberto] Tomba once said, 'There is no two without three."'

In 2011 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, Maze won gold in giant slalom and trailed champion Anna Fenninger of Austria for silver in the super-combined. Two years earlier in Val d'Isere, France, she took silver in the GS.

Maze is one of only six female skiers to win World Cup races in all five Alpine disciplines.

'Goal is to get that gold'

Lindsey Vonn has also achieved that feat, and won the World Cup super-combined title for three straight years, but the American is out for the season after injuring her right knee in a crash in the super-G.

Her teammate, Julia Mancuso, is looking to challenge Maze for the super-combined title.

In the World Cup, Mancuso hasn't reached a podium in the discipline for six years, but she tends to peak in major championships, earning silver at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Mancuso started the worlds by taking a confidence-boosting bronze medal.

"I am happy with a third place, but the next goal is to get that gold," she said.

Maria Hoefl-Riesch, the 2010 Olympic champion, has won four super-combineds. The 2011 overall champion from Germany is second in the World Cup overall standings, more than 800 points behind Maze.

Hoefl-Riesch has won just once this season — the season-opening slalom in Levi, Finland, in November.

The hopes of the home nation will be on allrounder Kathrin Zettel, who is finally healthy after a couple of injury-plagued seasons, and defending champion Anna Fenninger.

Fenninger's 2011 victory is still her only Top 3 finish in a super-combined.

Specializing in speed racing, the Austrian said she has been able to train in slalom for only six days this season.

"But world championships have their own rules. Everything can happen," Fenninger said. "That was also the case when I won it two years ago."

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