Qualifications are in full swing for the ladies' DH race
With ski racers Maria HOEFL-RIESCH (GER), Tina WEIRATHER (LIE) and Anna FENNINGER (AUT) topping everyone’s list of medal contenders, the dominance of Swiss and American women in Saturday’s ladies’ downhill training run may come as a surprise.
But it was more than just training for members of the Swiss, American and Austrian team: their performance would go some way to determining whether they will represent their country in the Olympic downhill next week.
So while other skiers had the option to take it easy during the runs or in many cases to choose not to race today, for these women it was all or nothing.
Fabienne SUTER (SUI) knows just how this feels. The 29 year old made the Swiss team after a shootout with four teammates for two spots in Friday’s training run. The motivation was enough for SUTER to finish fastest of all the racers in a 1 minute and 42.70 seconds. After the run, she described the uncertainty as “a certain kind of pressure which always runs with you and is on your mind” and added that she was relieved to have qualified.
The second available spot on the Swiss team went to Dominique GISIN (SUI) who recorded the fastest time on Saturday, racing down in 1 minute and 42.37 seconds.
On the American team however, a fast training run does not automatically mean qualification.
While Julia MANCUSO (USA), who finished eighth in Saturday’s training run, and Stacey COOK (USA), who came sixth, have secured starts through Olympic qualifying criteria, the two remaining starters will be determined based purely on the coach’s discretion and will be announced later today.
Laurenne ROSS (USA), who finished fifth today, said: "I will probably qualify. I hope I am on the downhill team. Racing in the Olympic downhill is my dream, something I am looking forward to, hopefully."
Jacqueline WILES (USA), who came fourth in today’s training run, has a more relaxed approach: "I'm proud of myself either way, this is the best skiing of my life right now,” she said. “I dreamed about this [the Olympics] when I was little, but I'm not going to let that put too much pressure on me for the race tomorrow."
Another starter still left in uncertainty is Nicole SCHMIDHOFER (AUT), who finished 17th in Saturday's training. She said: "Maybe Regina STERZ (AUT) made a mistake before me, but I don't know what her issue was. I could maybe qualify, but it's all up in the air. It's the trainer's decision, but what will be, will be."
Two of the four Austrian team spots are confirmed to be filled by Anna FENNINGER (AUT) and Elisabeth GOERGL (AUT). SCHMIDHOFER (AUT) will compete against Cornelia HUETTEER (AUT) and Regina STERZ (AUT) for the remaining two.
They will be decided based on a combination of the result of Saturday's training run and the Austrian national coach's opinion. The final squad will be announced after the super combined downhill on Monday.
Here are the results of today's 3rd ladies' DH training.
Quotes from today's race
Dominique GISIN (SUI)
On her qualification
"Today it was all about qualifying. Yesterday there was a qualification spot available, today there was [another] qualification spot available. These are the rules, it is a little bit crazy. There is more competition here than in world cup races."
On her performance
"It is hard for countries with a lot of good athletes. There was a lot of pressure but I did it with a lot of confidence. I am really happy about the qualification. It was like a race. I went down without any questions."
"Sometimes you feel good and you ski badly, sometimes you feel bad and ski well. It's a lot about mentality."
Lara GUT (SUI)
On her first Olympic experience:
"Everything is new but, when you are standing at the top, you have to do the same thing that you do all winter long - you just have to ski like you can."
On her performance:
"Yesterday I really swept. I never found where I have to ski. I skied bad. Today I tried to be more engaged, find my lines. I am skiing about 60% to 70%."
On her training run and her prospects of winning a medal:
"I was pretty fast in the first training in the harder parts and [I was fast] in other parts in the second training. So I am going to have to put these sections together."
"I think the most important thing is to believe in yourself, because without confidence it is difficult to be fast."
On how the course is skiing after three training runs:
"Two years ago (at the test event) it was still pretty flat, but also bumpy and not so much fun. But now it is smoother, a little icy, harder but good to ski on. It is challenging."
Kajsa KLING (SWE)
On her performance
"It was very good, even better than yesterday. Luckily I did well on the speed part: even if the course is technical, I feel more comfortable in the fast part."
On the jumps
"They are very good, better than the first day. I really felt good on them. I am very confident for the race."
Julia MANCUSO (USA)
On Saturday's morning training run:
"[The conditions are] more aggressive starting this early. I'm tired, but I made some turns I wanted to."
On the course:
"There is really good snow up there, it's getting bumpy and that's good. It'll be a little more challenging on race day. It will be difficult. There are two patches that are in the dark and it's hard to see in there."
On the men's downhill race, the first alpine skiing medal event, which takes place on Sunday 9 February, and specifically the prospect of watching her USA teammate Bode MILLER in action:
"It'll be inspiring. I think it will help to get the race jitters out of the way by watching someone else ski well - to give yourself the extra boost."
On the attraction of skiing fast
"I love going fast. Growing up chasing my older sister around the mountains taught me how to go straight and take risks."
"When I go fast, everything slows down and becomes more crystal clear. It's definitely exhilarating. I love going fast and letting gravity take me down the hill and fly."
Stacey COOK (USA)
On the feeling she gets from skiing fast:
"When it's in control, it's an amazing feeling. It's hard to describe to other people, the ultimate adrenaline rush."
"You feel so powerful because you are defying gravity."
"Sometimes when it's out of control it's scary and you don't feel comfortable, but you just have to man up."
On the mental demands posed by an Olympic downhill race:
"It's definitely a big adrenaline rush and something you have to have the confidence to do at this top level."
"That's always been a battle for me - to find enough confidence to compete with the very best."
"You have to trust yourself but it is so worth it - it is so much fun."
"You're fighting that mental battle, but you have to go for it. It's hard sometimes to want to go fast."
On her performance:
"I messed up the middle sections really badly. I was worried about the bottom which I had messed up yesterday, but I did OK on that."
Laurenne ROSS (USA)
On whether she has qualified for a spot on the USA downhill team:
"I will probably qualify. It will get announced tonight."
"It isn't 100% [based on the results of the third training run] as it is the coaches' decision."
"I hope I am on the downhill team. Racing in the Olympic downhill is my dream, something I am looking forward to, hopefully."