Hannes Reichelt and Didier Cuche top first training run in Sochi
For many, it was just another downhill training run which started today at 13:30 local time (10:00 CET) when Canada’s promising Benjamin Thomsen rushed out of the start-house of the Rosa Khufor course located above the newly built resort of Krasnaya Polyana, marking the beginning of the two-week-long World Cup stage organized nearby the Olympic town of Sochi! But in fact it was quite an historical moment for some of the international visitors present around the finish area, enjoying the nice weather in that part of Russia – the 24th country welcoming an Alpine World Cup competition on its soil.
That event, originally planned in the World Cup calendar for February 1983 at a far mountain situated much up north, in Mourmansk, was declined a few months prior the start of the season by local authorities for security reasons…
Russia finally on the World Cup tour
It’s certainly something special to have a huge country such as Russia being fully part of the Alpine World Cup tour after having Moscow organizing a couple of ‘Promotional’ World Cup events in recent years – but it’s another mile-stone in the sport when some of the best racers on the circuit discover a newly constructed Olympic course a year after it had hosted a FIS European Cup race.
Of course there were as many opinions as skiers (check videos) – some like it really, others not so much – because there were too many turns, not enough jumps, too much gliding at the end or even because the snow is whiter than in the Alps!
As Didier Cuche pointed out after his aggressive run – it’s surely a very nice Olympic course. He also added “ …but I won't be there as a racer in two years even if I’ll do well here next Saturday." Interestingly enough, the Swiss veteran has received a superb offer by his Head Boss Johan Eliasch to continue racing for another season in exchange of a special bonus of one million Euro.
The Swiss downhill star, battling for his fifth downhill World Cup title to equal the record of Austria’s skiing legend Franz Klammer, is now fully focused on that Russian competition. “During the inspection this morning, I told myself that the race will last way over two minutes, but in two years I’ll be nearly forty years old and even though I really enjoy speeding down the slopes, it would be too much for me,” he told the press afterwards. “I don’t want to make 'a season too many’ and fail to leave at the top of my form as I could this year.
“A month ago, many of your guys asked me if I didn’t make a mistake continuing another season – until I won Kitzbühel. So I don’t want to risk more of those questions if I keep on racing. I hope to be here in two here, but not as a racer.”
Besides being at nearly 38 the oldest winner on the World Cup tour and one of the most decorated speed specialists , Didier Cuche is for sure also the most experienced having entered over hundred-and-fifty downhill races in his career (on a total of 359 World Cup starts since December 1993). This certainly explains his capacity to soon find the right pace on the hard packed and sometimes icy course – steep and technically demanding at the top and a little smoother at the end – while some younger experts such as Klaus Kroell had a hard time figuring out the best tactic. “I have to check something in my equipment and fix the tuning of my skis and boots; I just forgot how to ski today,” said the Austrian who normally feels comfortable on all kinds of hills.
The small but determined Canadian delegation too had some doubts about that slope. “I had expected something totally different, there are too many narrow turns in the upper part,” said Erik Guay. “It looks like a ladies' super-G at the top, but I guess there was no other choice for the organizers because of the frozen snow and the steep slope,” added Jan Hudec was finished a far 25th.
Benjamin Thomsen, who qualified for this competion with his unexpected 5th place at Chamonix last week, was more relaxed. “It’s nice to let the ski run here, but I guess the other racers will go down faster in the next days,” he said. “I’m just happy to be here and get a great chance to increase my experience and collect some information on the course,” he added. “Who knows I may be back here in two years.”
More training runs are planned in the next two days – weather permitting of course. They should help the other favorites to raise their level of performance.