Downhill race at Olympic venue goes ahead

The ski slopes for the 2014 Olympics got a cautious thumbs-up

after the first international test event Friday, though a second

competition had to be canceled due to the threat of avalanche after

heavy snowfall.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who attended the downhill

competition with President Dmitry Medvedev, insisted the course was

as good as those in the Alps.

”I asked the guys about it today and they say that in

comparison with Austria, Switzerland it’s excellent,” Putin said,

referring to race competitors. ”The specialists say it’s one of

the best slopes in the world.”

International skiers and ski officials involved in a stage of

the second-tier European Cup at the Rosa Khutor resort praised the

men’s downhill run, noting the course was wide and safe, but said

it currently lacked more technically challenging elements. That was

due in part to the closure of the run’s upper echelons, which had

accumulated snowdrifts of up to 3 meters in places, said

international ski federation race director Markus Waldner.

”It was crazy. … The upper part, the most difficult

technically, we could not test, because it was closed because of

this avalanche problem,” he said, adding the dangerous conditions

ruled out the scheduled super-giant slalom event.

He said Russian ski officials needed to consult with

international experts on improving the course’s avalanche

defenses.

”That’s I think the main issue for the preparations for the

World Cup,” he said, adding that Sochi would host the top-tier

event next February.

The winner of Friday’s men’s downhill, Manuel Kramer of Austria,

told The Associated Press, that ”the general feeling we have is

that the slope is very good,” but added the snow was a little too

soft for perfect racing conditions.

”The slope is not too technical, but there’s good gliding,” he

added.

Kristian Haug of Norway, who finished 42nd, said the width of

the run took out the fear element that squeezes top results out of

the top athletes.

”You feel a little bit safer when you ski here compared to the

European slopes, which are really narrow in places and you have

fences and trees passing by a meter away. … When we will start

from the top it’s going to be really good.”

Waldner said Russian technical staff who looked after the course

worked exhaustively to get it ready in time, but lamented the

overly lavish breakfasts that Russian caterers offered to the

athletes.

”We don’t ask (for) caviar and champagne, we need a sports menu

like spaghetti and macaroni, he said. ”We just need carbohydrates

and a piece of meat and we’re happy.”

Sochi, a year-round resort on Russia’s Black Sea coast, is about

40 percent through the building work needed to construct all

Olympic facilities from scratch. This year is slated to be the most

work-intensive in the run-up to 2014, with constructors targeting

70 percent by year-end.