Nothing Lame About This Olympic Downhill

Sochi downhill's character—plenty of vert, huge jumps—shines despite conservative course-set in initial test drive.
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Sochi downhill Olympics 2014

To our thinking, the downhill is, or should be, the marquee event of the Olympics—king of all events. Problem is, Olympic cities don’t always have big enough mountains to challenge the world’s best speed skiers, so the event is often cheapened.

By all accounts, there’s nothing cheap about the terrain and sheer vertical footage of the Sochi course at Krasnaya Polyana. World Cuppers got their first crack at the speed-event course over the weekend and were favorably impressed.

Most seemed to agree that the course-set was conservative—too much like a super G, in Bode Miller’s mind. That’s probably to be expected as organizers get a feel for the hill while trying to keep the athletes safe. Meanwhile, the racers also agree on this: the Sochi course, where the women race this week, has the potential to be one of the most challenging Olympic tracks ever.

Here’s the account of the men’s race provided by the U.S. Ski Team’s Doug Haney, with interesting impressions from the U.S. racers.

SOCHI, Russia (Feb. 11) - With Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in the crowd, Bode Miller (Franconia, NH) rode a razor sharp line to finish fourth by a mere two hundredths of a second in the Audi FIS Alpine World Cup test of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games downhill. Miller carried the green leader light through the first two timing intervals before his skis hooked up on the middle of the course forcing him to dump speed coming into the jump section. Swiss Beat Feuz won on his 25th birthday to move within 50 points of World Cup overall leader Ivica Kostelic of Croatia.

Bode Miller: “The technical tough part is on the top, it's the first minute or so. We've been struggling on the setup trying to figure out what to do on these bumps and firm ice. Those kind of spots are where I'm able to put time on guys.
“The setup of this hill is good, the jumps are awesome - they're huge as you can see, but they have good landings and straight take-offs, so it sets up for a great natural downhill. But they do have to figure out how much risk they're willing to take with the course set.
“The athletes will ski whatever. The Olympic downhill has to be the real thing and especially when you have such a great venue as this, it would be awesome to showcase it, but this is way too turny for a downhill. It is tough when they've never run a race before, but I'm sure they're learning as much as we are and I'm sure they'll figure out how to use this terrain and make something special.
“A downhill should be a challenge, it should be dangerous and it should have risk. Part of that comes from carrying speed off of terrain and into big turns. If it doesn't challenge athletes, then you won't ever see their best. The Olympics and World Cup deserves to provide an opportunity for athletes to show their best. It's got to be tough.”
Ted Ligety: “Downhill should be straight and fast, so maybe it's too turny, but this hill is for real, it's not a downhill where you sit in the start and you're super relaxed. You definitely have to think about it and you know you have to charge it. I'm mostly here for the training and the combined, so getting a result in the downhill was never my focus for being here.”
Travis Ganong: “This is the cooleset hill I've ever seen for ski racing—downhill, super G—it doesn't matter. This hill is just awesome top-to-bottom. It's has really steep technical sections, really cool rolls and terrain with bank turns and then big jumps, and the mountains around here are georgous. The set can probably use some change before the Olympics and they'll work on that in the next couple of years, but in general this is a great hill. …. I feel like during the first inspection run we were all just shaking our heads going 'what is going on here' because there is so much terrain to learn. But after four days on the hill I feel super confident. It would be nice to be back here for another race.”


2002 Olympic Downhill Courses at Snowbasin

Olympic Downhill Courses at Snowbasin

Skiing two miles downhill without taking a break is hard enough. Try doing it at 80 mph on a sheet of ice. That's what it feels like to be an Olympic racer, and you can still ski the 2002 Olympic Downhill Course at Snowbasin if you're willing to give it a try.

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Building Rosa Khutor: 2014 Olympics

The Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia are still a few years away. That's good news, because there's still a lot to be done to prepare the resort. Here's an update on the progress, and the latest on the inclusion of halfpipe skiing.