Wind to calm for Thursday start in men’s Olympic downhill
JEONGSEON, South Korea — Show time in the Olympic men’s downhill is Thursday — four days later than planned.
Calm air and cloudy skies are forecast for Jeongseon, where the snow surface is harder and faster after a pounding by strong winds since Sunday’s original start date was postponed.
“It will be show time,” race director Markus Waldner told The Associated Press on Wednesday, expecting respite from gusts up to 45 mph (72 kph). “We will see some big action.”
The favorites remain the same: world champion Beat Feuz of Switzerland, plus Norway teammates Aksel Lund Svindal and Kjetil Jansrud, who were both among the four fastest in a short downhill section of Tuesday’s combined event.
The fastest man Tuesday was Thomas Dressen, riding a tailwind down the mountain. As if for good luck, the German racer has again chosen to wear the No. 1 bib, scheduled to start first at 11:30 a.m.
Feuz’s team picked first and took No. 5 for him. Norway played a waiting game, taking No. 7 for Svindal and No. 9 for Jansrud. Leading the American challenge, Bryce Bennett will start at No. 14.
Don’t be surprised if the result is a stunning upset.
Five of the past 10 men’s Olympic downhill champions were without a win in World Cup races, including Matthias Mayer of Austria at the 2014 Sochi Games.
“Any given day, anything can happen,” said Svindal, a perennial favorite who got downhill silver in 2010 and was fourth in 2014.
Why? Svindal’s best theory is that Olympic titles are usually won on courses not raced on the World Cup circuit, so are unfamiliar to all.
Some recent greats — Bode Miller, Didier Cuche, Hermann Maier — were never Olympic downhill champions but Jean-Luc Cretier of France was.
Cretier’s title at the 1998 Nagano Olympics was his only career win. The 1980 champion in Lake Placid, Leonhard Stock of Austria, would wait another nine years for his first World Cup downhill win.
Men’s Olympic downhills tend to be close, and so was Tuesday’s rehearsal in the combined event.
Dressen was only 0.07 seconds faster than Svindal, and 0.13 ahead of Mayer.
Four years ago, Mayer took gold only 0.06 seconds faster than Christof Innerhofer of Italy — translating to a mere 5½-foot (1.66-meter) winning margin down the longest-ever Olympic course. Jansrud, the bronze medalist, trailed by only 0.10.
It was even tighter on the 2010 Vancouver Olympic podium. Didier Defago of Switzerland was 0.07 ahead of Svindal, and Bode Miller was only 0.09 behind in bronze.
The race could be won and lost on tiny details tough to identify on first sight.
“It’s going to be a race of perfection,” said Manuel Osborne-Paradis, the Canadian veteran of four Olympics.
The 2.9-kilometer (1 5/6-mile) course is not too steep — top speeds hit around 78 mph (126 kph) — and if the wind subsides, does not often throw racers off balance.
It does launch them off four jumps and demands a precise line to carry speed across the side hills and through turns.
On dry snow, also found in North America, the key to victory could be finessing turns with soft feet.
Austria is almost an underdog despite winning seven of 18 men’s downhill titles at the Olympics.
Still, most pre-race talk is about other nations.
Yet Austria will field a typically deep four-man team consisting of skiers who each placed on a podium in World Cup downhills since December.
Joining Mayer are 2017 world championship bronze medalist Max Franz; Hannes Reichelt, a multiple World Cup downhill winner; and Vincent Kriechmayr, who won Saturday’s final official practice.
Two veteran medal contenders, Svindal and Reichelt, can set Olympic age records.
Svindal, who turned 35 in December, and Reichelt, whose 37th birthday was in July, would be the oldest Olympic champion in any Alpine event.
The record is held by Reichelt’s long-time Austria teammate Mario Matt, who won slalom gold at the 2014 Sochi Games one month before his 35th birthday.
Bode Miller’s record as the oldest Alpine medalist of any color is at risk from Reichelt. Miller was 36 when he took super-G bronze four years ago.