Alpine skiing: A home-field advantage?
Alpine skiing is an odd sport that includes more variables than just about any endeavor with stakes as high as Olympic gold medals: weather, snow conditions, starting position, light, wind, etc. This all makes the men's downhill -- the marquee event that will essentially open meaningful competition in the Vancouver Games on Saturday -- nearly impossible to handicap.
In Thursday's training run -- the only training run that included all 89 skiers after Wednesday's initial attempt was wiped out by fog and some snow and Friday's attempt was canceled before the sun came up because of drizzle -- Austrian Michael Walchhofer posted the fastest time over the Dave Murray downhill course in Whistler Creekside. Or, at least, the fastest time that counted, because Switzerland's Didier Cuche was actually a tick quicker, but his time was discounted because he missed a gate.
"I think it's a pretty open field out there," American Ted Ligety, one of the world's best technical skiers, said after he placed 26th in the training run, just ahead of teammate Steven Nyman. The fastest American was Bode Miller in eighth, followed by Andrew Weibrecht -- a skier to watch, both now and in the future -- in 10th.
We'll get into all sorts of factors that could sort out this race -- and provide a little history on crazy downhill upsets from Olympics past -- later this afternoon and in Saturday's paper. But consider the results of that training run Thursday. In second, all of nine hundredths of a second behind Walchhofer, was Canada's Robbie Dixon. In third came another Canadian, Erik Guay.
This is not, other skiers believe, a coincidence. The Canadians held a training camp at Whistler last fall. Another contender, Manny Osborne-Paradis, grew up at Whistler. The Canadians trained here two weeks ago.
"I think they've kind of figured it all out, when it comes down to it," Weibrecht said.
The Americans, though, are trying to learn from that expertise. After about 40 skiers completed Wednesday's training run, the U.S. team analyzed video of the fastest skiers. But they paid particular attention to the Canadians.
"Everyone's talking about the Canadian advantage," American Marco Sullivan said Thursday. "We videoed everybody yesterday, watched what the Canadians are doing, and pretty much take all their training and figure out what they're doing in one video session."
Who knows whether it'll help? But in a race full of fickle factors, home-mountain advantage is another one to consider.
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