Gnarly last part likely to decide men's downhill
Canada's Erik Guay reacts during the men's downhill training at the Alpine skiing world championships in Schladming, Austria, Thursday, Feb.7,2013. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
SCHLADMING, Austria - For about three quarters of the course, the men's downhill at the world championships features long jumps onto bumpy straightaways and sweeping, wide turns.
Then the real action begins.
Skiers take a hard right turn at the Italienerloch curve — named for the Italian racers who struggled at that point in years past — and dive into the course's steepest and most technical section.
The race is on Saturday.
"It will probably be decided in those last 40 seconds," said Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal, who won the downhill here at last season's World Cup finals. "That's where the toughest turns are."
The final section of the course is called the Weirather-S, named after Harti Weirather, the Austrian skier who won this race when the worlds were first held here in 1982. That's also the part of the course used for the annual night slalom, and the gradient is better suited for a technical race than a downhill, meaning skiers will have to dig their edges in hard to stay on their line just as their legs begin to weaken in the 2 minute-plus run.
Austria's top challenger this time is Klaus Kroell, the red-bearded racer who won last season's World Cup downhill title. There's also Hannes Reichelt, the only Austrian to win a downhill this season and who finished fourth in the super-G that opened the championships.
Canadian skiers will try to extend a men's downhill podium streak that stretches back to 2007. Erik Guay of Mont-Tremblant, Que., kept teammate John Kucera’s 2009 world title in Canadian hands by winning gold in 2011.
“I think I have as much of a chance as anybody," Guay said of his chances this weekend. "It all depends how it comes together on race day and how much courage you can find.
“It’s world championships so I would expect to see some very big skiing and some very big chances taken so it should be a really interesting one to watch. It’s looks like all the main guys are in the mix.”
Calgary's Jan Hudec got the Canadian medal streak started with a silver medal in the downhill six years ago.
“The skis are working awesome right now, so tomorrow I’ve got no excuses," Hudec said. "I’ve got to be as fast as possible. People talk about (the streak) all the time but I think about going fast and if I add to the stat that’s going to be pretty cool.”
The Austrians have been training on the Planai course all season but the rest of the field had only one full training run, which Reichelt led on Thursday ahead of Italians Dominik Paris and Christof Innerhofer, who each have two wins this season.
In Friday's second training session, racers did not ski the bottom section of the run because it was being prepared for the women's super-combined.
Instead, there will be a shortened training run on the bottom early Saturday before the race a few hours later.
France's Brice Roger, who has a career-best finish of 10th, led the shortened session ahead of Andrej Sporn of Slovenia and Marco Sullivan of the United States. Guay was 10th and Hudec was 11th.
Manuel Osborne-Paradis of Vancouver was 23rd and Ben Thomsen of Invermere, B.C., was 42nd.
The course hardened up after the temperature fell overnight. Light snow is forecast for Saturday.
"The steepest and most technical part of the course is the last four turns, so it's nice to be fast on the top today but I definitely have to keep in mind that that's not the whole deal," said Sullivan, who is self-funded this season after several difficult years affected by injury.
Sullivan finished third in Lake Louise, Alta., at the start of this season for his first podium finish in four years.
Guay showed he's back in form with a runner-up finish behind Paris in Kitzbuehel, Austria, two weeks ago. However, the Canadian star struggled to a 23rd-place finish in the super-G a few days ago.
"I'm a little wishy-washy," Guay said. "The confidence isn't there 100 per cent. ... (Training) helps to put me in that frame of mind but I'm not here to finish fourth, I'm here to be on the podium and hopefully win this thing, so I have a lot of work to do for Saturday."
Some 50,000 fans are expected in this small Alpine village for the race.
"It's awesome, it's a cool scene," Sullivan said. "The Austrians obviously love skiing but they're not the only ones here. You see tons of Swiss flags and there are Americans. It's just a big melting pot of ski racing fans and Schladming has done a great job of building up the stadium right in the finish where it feels like we're skiing into the Thunder Dome — fans are going crazy. If I can throw down a good run and be the focus of the crowd it will be awesome."
With files from The Canadian Press.