Sochi Olympics downhill course gets high marks

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By ANDREW DAMPF, Associated Press

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Didier Cuche called it "magnificent." Bode Miller was highly critical. Aksel Lund Svindal said the course for the 2014 Sochi Olympics was "what downhill is all about."

Racers mainly gave high marks to the Rosa Khutor slope after the opening World Cup training session was held under clear sunshine and good snow conditions.

"It's a magnificent course," said Cuche, the four-time winner of the World Cup downhill title, who finished second to Austria's Hannes Reichelt on Wednesday. "Perhaps a little bit too turning, it could be adapted a little bit to change that. The first 40 seconds or so it resembles more a super-G than a downhill, albeit a very fast super-G.

"It's not like any other run on the circuit," said Cuche, who plans to retire after this season. "It's a really interesting run. They have managed to shape the course around the mountain in a really nice way."

However, Miller said the constant turns on the upper section are too much like super-G.

"I don't really believe it embodies anything that a true World Cup downhill should be," said the 34-year-old American, who would compete in his fifth Olympics.

Training sessions are scheduled for Thursday and Friday before a World Cup downhill on Saturday and a super-combined race on Sunday — the first major test events for the Sochi Games.

At 2.2 miles, the course is one of the longer layouts that skiers have faced, although the constant turns mean little time in the tuck position. Therefore, it's not one of the most physically demanding tests.

"If they ran that as the Olympic super-G it would be an epic super-G, because it's not that tiring, even for the amount of time that you're on the course," said Miller, who cruised down in 32nd place. "It's just cranking turns the whole way on that good, hard snow."

Miller lamented the lack of gliding sections, where he usually excels.

"There's not one place where you're not going hard edge-to-edge except for this road just before this second-to-last jump into the finish," he said. "Because you're so tall and you're legs are long, you're not tucking at all."

The upper half of the course contains a series of technical, narrow and steep turns before easing out toward the end, although there are large jumps all the way down, including one into the finish.

"It's a tough course," said Svindal, the two-time overall World Cup winner from Norway. "I think a lot of guys were surprised at inspection this morning.

"It's kind of what downhill is all about — the mountain kind of sets the pace," Svindal added. "If this was gliding from the top then we would kill ourselves after 20 seconds, so I'm glad they put some turns in there."

Svindal thought organizers injected too much water to make the upper portion of the course harder.

"It's a tough course — that's the bottom line — but the course preparation really makes a (difference)," said the Norwegian, who placed 21st. "I think they overdid it with the water this time. They'll probably use less water for the Olympics."

Svindal's biggest complaint was about the poorly organized charter planes that the International Ski Federation (FIS) used to transport athletes to Russia. He and other skiers said they were given no food or water for six hours from the time they began their trip from Zurich on Tuesday.

"If we knew, we would have brought something, but information was limited," Svindal said.

The U.S. Ski Team avoided the charter route and flew from Europe by private jet, part of a training arrangement with the Russian ski federation.

"It was cool to be able to fly here in style," said giant slalom world champion Ted Ligety.

Construction is everywhere, all the way up to the ski course finish area, which is located halfway up the mountain and requires two gondolas and a windy chairlift for fans and media.

The skiers and the FIS officials seem pleased, so far.

"This is the training of the test event, so this is Round 1, Day 1 — we're as green as green gets," said men's World Cup finish area director Mike Kertesz. "I don't mean to pat our own backs, but with all the work we've done so far, things are running according to the way they should, or even better than I've seen a brand new organizer do before."

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