Did Austrian course-setter 'Lindsey-proof' race?

Did Austrian course-setter 'Lindsey-proof' race?

Published Feb. 20, 2010 8:35 p.m. ET

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