Vonn, other racers pleased with Sochi 2014 course
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP)
From Lindsey Vonn on down, the first impression of the women's downhill course for the 2014 Sochi Olympics was a positive one. The only problem was that the jumps were too large.
''I like it. The snow is a little bit soft and it was definitely windy today, but first impression was good,'' Vonn said after Wednesday's opening training run for this weekend's World Cup races - a major test event for the games.
''There's more terrain on this course than pretty much every World Cup that I've been to.''
Downhill world champion Elisabeth Goergl of Austria was also pleased with the Rosa Khutor slope.
''It's got everything in it - really steep parts and jumps and nice, steep turns and flat parts and rolls - so it's an interesting track,'' Goergl said. ''It's definitely Olympic worth.''
However, after the first three skiers flew high off the slope's two big jumps, course officials began waving flags to slow skiers down as they approached those sections, meaning most racers didn't get a chance to go full speed all the way down.
''I was really, really high the first jump. ... I was flying,'' said Johanna Schnarf of Italy, who was the first skier on the course and led the session by 0.01 seconds ahead of Vonn - although she missed a gate.
Vonn started 15th and was flagged before the jumps, but that didn't stop her.
''The coaches said, 'If you feel like there's a headwind then stop,''' Vonn said. ''I felt the headwind but I still didn't stop.''
Women's World Cup director, Atle Skaardal, later announced that both jumps would be shaved down.
''I don't think they're too big. Today was just an issue with a strong headwind. But they're just not going to take any chances,'' said U.S. Ski Team head coach Alex Hoedlmoser. ''Our girls are good jumpers, so we're not really concerned.''
With downhill and super-combined races scheduled, Vonn could clinch both discipline titles this weekend.
The American holds a 230-point lead over Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein and is 255 points in front of Georgl with two downhills remaining after this weekend. Entering the final super-combi, she's 55 points in front of Tina Maze of Slovenia and 60 points ahead of Nicole Hosp of Austria.
Vonn is aiming for her fifth consecutive downhill title and third straight in super-combi.
''I know what I have to do but I try not to think about it,'' Vonn said. ''It would just be great to win here, period. It's the Olympic track, so I want to get up to speed and see what I can do and really risk a lot so that I know what I'm capable of for the Olympics.''
Two more training sessions are scheduled for Thursday and Friday, although snow is forecast and could affect the program.
Like the men last week, the women are impressed with the amount of progress in a resort that was begun from scratch just a few years ago. While the area is not open to the public yet, there are already numerous gondolas and chairlifts in place and world-class slopes.
Down in the valley below, workers are toiling all day and night to build hotels, restaurants and shops - plus rail and highway connections from the Black Sea coast 50 kilometers (30 miles) away.
''I can't believe that none of this was here two years ago,'' American downhiller Laurenne Ross said. ''Who came through here and decided where we're going to run the downhill and cut all the trees down? It's so cool that you can do that. It makes me want to make a resort, make some really cool runs.''
Security men wearing traditional Russian fur hats and carrying machine guns are all over the place.
''I feel like I'm in 'James Bond' or something,'' said another American, Alice McKennis.
However, not everything is ready.
''Where we go in before we go to the start there's not a real, working toilet - it's just a hole,'' said defending overall World Cup winner Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany. ''There's still some (work) to do but there was nothing here, so I think it's going to be good.''