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Olympics-Alpine skiing-Impressed downhillers get first taste of Yanqing slope

Randy Mancini 32 Feb 3
Alpine Skiing - Training
2022 Beijing Olympics - Alpine Skiing - Training - National Alpine Skiing Centre, Yanqing district, Beijing, China - February 3, 2022. Raphael Haaser of Austria in action during training. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

February 3, 2022

By Simon Evans

YANQING, China (Reuters) -The long wait to discover exactly what kind of downhill course has been created in the mountains outside Beijing ended on Thursday when the world’s top skiers finally took to the piste and gave it their seal of approval.

Switzerland’s Stefan Rogentin posted the fastest of the training runs with his 1:44 and Spanish outsider Adur Etxezarreta was second quickest.

But the times meant little on a day when many skiers were simply getting a feel for what awaits in Sunday’s opening race.

The course, 80km (50 miles) outside Beijing and created entirely with artificial snow, offers spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and countryside and the scenery was enhanced by glorious sunshine.

Chinese officials will be delighted with the global broadcast images of a region they hope to turn into a centre for winter sports.

For the skiers, it was all about discovering what lines and techniques will bring maximum benefit.

The course has never held a World Cup race or a test event of any kind.

“We had very little information. I saw a video of Chinese guys training here last year,” said Austrian double Olympic champion Matthias Mayer.

“You get a little bit of any idea of the terrain but you never know for sure. So it was definitely more inspection today than racing,” he added.

That said, the smiles from the skiers indicated this was a process they were enjoying.

“In terms of difficulty I give it 7.5 out of 10,” said Italian contender Christof Innerhofer. “But the fun factor was close to 10.”

THUMBS UP

Overall World Cup leader Marco Odermatt of Switzerland, who enters the Games as one of the skiers in with a chance of multiple medals, gave the course a firm thumbs up.

“It’s a really great slope, they built up an incredible slope and it was fun to ski,” he told reporters.

“For everyone it is new, it is a big challenge for the whole team to find the right set-up,” he added.

Certainly there was little that was familiar to the skiers used to the classic downhills of the World Cup circuit in Europe.

“You can’t compare with any other World Cup race. The snow is really good, really hard, maybe a little bit like the American races, but I would say it is the Beijing downhill,” said Mayer.

There are two more days of training on the course before the medal event and the favourites such as World Cup downhill leader Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway and recent Kitzbuehel winner Beat Feuz of Switzerland will certainly up the intensity.

“I think there are many guys who can do well on this,” said Mayer, who was first out on Thursday and is looking for a repeat of his 2014 downhill triumph at Sochi and his gold in super-G at Pyeongchang.

(Reporting by Simon Evans, Additional reporting by Shadia Nasralla and Simon Jennings;Editing by Robert Birsel and Ken Ferris)