Wednesday, March 08, 2006

downhill inspection & training

Today was scheduled to be the first of three days of official, timed downhill training. Organizers of all downhill races are required to schedule at least two downhill training runs (and actually hold at least one) on a course identical to the one used on race day. (Not only is this not the norm for super G, giant slalom or slalom, it would actually be ILlegal if racers were permitted to train on the course prior to the race. Downhill is different because the high speeds involved and the long, difficult-to-memorize courses can make it unsafe to go all-out on one's first trip down.)

From 9 to 10 a.m. was course inspection, the time allotted for racers to sideslip through the gates in order to note terrain features and the placement of gates, to plan our optimal line through the course, and to memorize the whole course. The memorization part is especially crucial in downhill, and most racers usually use the full hour for their inspections — unlike, say, GS, where I find 15 or 20 minutes is often sufficient. The downhill course here at Sestriere Borgata looks really great: a mix of high-speed gliding, technical sections, and some interesting terrain features; it's challenging but not too intimidating. (All downhills are a little bit intimidating.) It has 40 gates marking 23 turns and follows roughly the same route as last month's men's Olympic super G. I already know it by heart, thanks to having run it probably 15 times already in my head.

Unfortunately, I'll have to wait until tomorrow for my first chance to run it for real. After inspection today, I went inside to stretch, grab a snack and use the bathroom. When I came back out, all the other monoskiers were sitting around in a little cluster at the bottom of the hill, and Nick said, "Did you hear? It's cancelled today." It turns out that wind speeds at the start of the race course had been steadily increasing, and an errant gale-force gust managed to rip the aluminum poles that were holding up a large start-shelter tent right out of the snow. The poles hit several team staff members, breaking a Japanese physiotherapist's leg and hitting a German coach in the neck as well as bonking one of our team's ski technicians in the head. The Japanese woman and Baloo, the German guy, had to be taken down the mountain in sleds for treatment, and the organizers made the decision to scrap the day's training run — a drastic step, but perhaps a good one for the teams affected. It will also give the organizers more time to deploy the army of course slippers, rakers, and groomers at their disposal to remove some of the excess soft snow that's continued to fall recently and could make the course dangerous. (They've already done a tremendous job of making the course ready to go once.)

Downhill is fast when you actually run it, but until then it's a hurry-up-and-wait sport. Tomorrow we take another crack at it, so I better get some sleep.

1 comment:

sparty said...

Hmm...sounds kinda like Sugarloaf, except with a real course to go with the nasty weather.

Rip it up.