Did Austrian course-setter ‘Lindsey-proof’ race?

This is how much respect Lindsey Vonn gets from the rest of the

world:

Just as the green jackets who run Augusta National tried to

“Tiger-proof” the Masters golf course to stymie Tiger Woods, the

ski jackets in charge at the Olympics did their level best to

“Lindsey-proof” the super-G course at Whistler.

And it may have worked. Vonn, already the downhill champion,

settled for bronze in Saturday’s super-G. The winner was Andrea

Fischbacher, who skies for Austria.

And who set the course?

Austrian coach Juergen Kriechbaum.

The Austrians, of course, feign innocence about it all.

“You don’t make a course against one person. This is stupid,”

Kriechbaum said in an interview with The Associated Press hours

after the race. “She’s good, but not so good that anyone would set

it just to stop her.”

If that sounds familiar, it should.

That’s how the lords of Augusta responded to accusations they

lengthened the course and otherwise tricked it up to keep Woods

from shredding it again after his tournament-record 18-under-par

performance in 1997.

Vonn didn’t raise the issue herself, saying her third-place

finish resulted from a questionable decision to take her foot off

the accelerator after zooming through the difficult part of the

course. Small wonder she eased up, though, since 15 racers found

the layout so difficult they didn’t even make it to the bottom.

But Thomas Vonn, her husband, unofficial coach and former U.S.

Olympic team skier, had plenty to say about it. And while he

ultimately agreed that the loss was “more her backing off and some

conditions changing,” he’s clearly tired of the way Lindsey is

being targeted.

“I know for a fact that the Austrian course setter said that he

was setting it against Lindsey, which is kind of silly,

considering. I know he made a comment to some people that ‘we

studied all the tapes, and we found out that the one from Val

d’Isere is the one she did worst in,’ which happened to be third

place,” Thomas Vonn said.

“And he was like, ‘We’re going to set it like that because we

have to.’ And then somebody asked him, ‘Well, didn’t your girls all

do terrible on that course, too?’ And he was like, ‘Yes.’

“It’s a little strange,” Thomas Vonn said.

The women’s race director for the International Ski Federation,

Atle Skaardal, said course-setters are determined by lottery, with

each nation having as many balls in the hopper as it has skiers

ranked in the top 15 in the world.

“Once the course is set, then the coaches from other teams and

the course jury go slipping down, look at everything and are free

to comment,” he said. “So to suggest that a setter would make a

course favorable to his team is only common sense, eh?

“If you’re Austrian,” he chuckled, “why would you set it up

for say, the Swiss?”

Kriechbaum was indeed the course-setter at Val d’Isere last

December when Vonn – who has already clinched a second straight

World Cup super-G championship this season with two races left –

finished third.

But Fischbacher finished ninth at Val d’Isere, and her teammates

did even worse. Elisabeth Goergl, who was fifth at Whistler, was

11th there. Three others tied for 12th at Val d’Isere: Anna

Fenninger (16th at Whistler); Nicole Schmidhoffer (did not finish

at Whistler) and Kathrin Zettel (not entered at Whistler).

“Every course-setter has his special way, his tricks and such,

but I also have to work with the hill that is here,” Kriechbaum

said. He didn’t deny the Austrians studied tapes of Vonn, but said

every team studies the competition.

“There may be similarities (to Val d’Isere), but we did so

poorly there, why would I go against my own team?” he

insisted.

Thomas Vonn said the set-up featured a succession of gates that

were relatively straight, followed by sweeping turns. That forces

skiers to throttle back on speed to negotiate the dangerous curves.

Lindsey Vonn just happens to be even more dominant in downhill than

she is at super-G.

“People are always going to search for a way to knock you

down,” Thomas Vonn said. “They’re going to look for that little

piece of kryptonite. But it’s a little ironic when he’s even

setting it against his own team because he wants her to lose so

bad.

“He just set it, kind of quick and dangerous, like an

eliminator-style course where it would require a ton of tactics,”

Thomas Vonn added. “Anytime you set a lot of straight gates and

then some big turns, you’re going to see kind of carnage.”

Kriechbaum took it all in stride. He had no idea who told Thomas

Vonn “such things,” and said the hill limited how much room he

had between gates. And that nasty jump was already in place, which

restricted him further.

The unusually high number of crashes and DNFs?

Pilot error, Kriechbaum said.

That’s an answer we’re hearing a lot at these games.

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist with The Associated

Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org