Newspaper article International New York Times

Redefining the Fast Lane for a High-Speed Sport

Newspaper article International New York Times

Redefining the Fast Lane for a High-Speed Sport

Article excerpt

On the men's downhill course at the Sochi Games, skiers quickly reach 90 miles an hour. A finishing jump proved daunting on the women's course.

The Olympic men's downhill course begins with a descent so steep that skiers quickly reach 90 miles an hour. A subsequent jump catapults racers almost the length of a football field.

The women's downhill features a finishing jump that hurled racers so high in the air Thursday that the first training run was halted after only 3 of 56 skiers tried the course.

Worried for the contestants' safety, race officials used machinery to whittle the jump into a less perilous bump at 60 miles an hour.

"I felt like, 'You're welcome, I'll be your test dummy,"' said the American downhill skier Laurenne Ross, one of the three women to soar off the jump when the training began. "I was definitely intimidated. You just get really high off the ground, the slope just drops off and you're still going straight, and that's the problem because you feel like you're just not going to come down."

One of the realities of staging Olympic Games in a remote location like the mountains above Sochi is that many of the venues have not been extensively tested. The men's and women's downhill racecourses, for example, held one major ski racing event, and that was two years ago. While it is not uncommon for a ski racing course to be adjusted during training sessions, the racers Thursday -- the men also had a downhill training run -- were forced to study the course and survive it at the same time.

Adding to the uncertainty has been the continuing inclination to make the Winter Games dauntingly extreme. Earlier this week, Olympic officials scrambled to make changes to the slopestyle course after injuries to top snowboarders, including one who broke his collarbone in a crash.

On Thursday, one of the other three women to test the downhill course, Daniela Merighetti of Italy, said she injured her knees landing the final jump. On the men's side, only about 20 of the top 45 racers successfully negotiated all the gates, as many were racing at speeds that propelled them off course.

"The course is just unrelenting," said Travis Ganong, a 25-year- old American. …

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