A tougher downhill course lies ahead for Olympic skiers
February 15, 2017
ST. MORITZ, Switzerland — Stop worrying, downhill racers. The 2018 Olympic course will be faster than you think.
The new track in South Korea has been criticized — at a men's test race last year and at the world championships this week — as being too slow with too many twists and turns.
Not so fast, veteran Olympic course designer Bernhard Russi told The Associated Press.
"It was on purpose to do it like this," Russi said of last February's World Cup downhill where race winner Kjetil Jansrud of Norway peaked at 113.7 kph (70.6 mph).
If that sounds fast, 2014 Olympic champion Matthias Mayer hit close to 135 kph (84 mph) on Russi's design in the mountains above Sochi. A record speed of 161 kph (100 mph) in World Cup downhills was set by Johan Clarey of France in Wengen, Switzerland, in 2013.
"When you go the first time in a new downhill you start from the slow side. You don't want to kill the guys," said Russi, the 1972 Olympic champion and silver medalist behind Austrian great Franz Klammer four years later.
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The Swiss veteran is skiing's master architect, and always planned to learn from last year's debut race and a scheduled women's World Cup downhill on the same wide course next month.
"Now we know how much faster we can go, and we will. And the jumps will be longer," Russi said of a men's course that launches them airborne four times.
The main Olympic critic one year ago was Christof Innerhofer of Italy, the 2014 silver medalist, who called the course in Jeongseon "slow motion."
In St. Moritz, it was world championship downhill silver medalist Erik Guay of Canada who wished for a faster, tougher test at the Pyeongchang Olympics.
Guay said the test race had too many slowing turns, and was similar to a super-G — a pointed remark from the 35-year-old Canadian who is the new world champion in that discipline.
"I hope that they set it a little differently," Guay said of the Olympic course. "I think that they should make it flow a little bit better. But the slope itself is great."
The men and women share the Olympic hill, but not exactly the same terrain. Russi said there is time to adapt both before the Olympics. The women will compete in World Cup downhill and super-G races on March 4-5.
"Basically the character will remain the same (as the men's)," Russi said of the women's downhill track. "Maybe the turns will be a little bit tighter. Maybe one, two, three, four more turns. Maybe the jumps a little less big, less long. Perfect for ladies."
Other factors could also change Olympic race-day conditions, such as snow quality and humidity in a mountain region only 40 kilometers (25 miles) inland.
"If the weather is good I think (the snow) is going to be rather on the hard side, on the icy side," Russi said. "Everything is on track."