PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - Canada’s Manuel Osborne-Paradis laid down the fastest time on Thursday in the first training for the men’s downhill at the Winter Olympics on a slope described by leading contenders as “easy” but with little margin for error.
Most of the big names looked to be skiing well within themselves as they acclimatised to the piste and worked on figuring out which line down the mountain would give them the best chance of landing a gold medal on Sunday.
Osborne-Paradis made the best of perfect conditions at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre to top the time sheets in one minute, 40.45 seconds.
“It just felt like a good run, it didn’t feel like a great run,” said the Canadian, who is looking for his first medal in his fourth Olympics.
“This course is about generating as much speed as you possibly can because it’s an easy course. It’s more about skiing it better than it is about taking risks. The risk isn’t going to be a reward here.”
He was followed by Norwegian medal contender Kjetil Jansrud (1:40.76) with Swiss Mauro Caviezel third fastest (1:40.90) and defending champion Matthias Mayer just off podium pace in fourth (1:41.20).
“It was a little bit slower than I expected but it’s a really nice downhill,” said Austrian Mayer, who skied the race of his life to win gold in Sochi four years ago.
“I think everyone wants to be fast here but I’m feeling good in my mood.”
Beat Feuz, the reigning downhill world champion after his triumph in St. Moritz last year, was 15th quickest in 1:41.86 and thought the conditions could make for some fast times on Sunday.
“It’s a very fine slope. It’s cold, which is good for the piste. It’s a slope where a lot of people can ski very fast,” said the Swiss.
The course, the ninth designed by 1972 Olympic champion Bernhard Russi, was first used for a men’s World Cup race in 2016 and is less dramatic than some of the classic European runs like Kitzbuehel’s Hahnenkamm.
It features four large jumps that will test the skiers’ technique and aerodynamics, and its relative shortness will punish any mistakes because any time lost will be next to impossible to make up.
After a World Cup race on the course in 2016, it was suggested by some of the skiers that it would favour the more technical skills of the Super G specialists.
Adjustments have been made since, however, and Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal said that might no longer be the case.
“Snow’s good, the course looks good,” the 35-year-old said. “It’s easy in the sense that we haven’t seen many crashes today but it’s not easy to go fast.
“I think it’s going to favour the downhillers because you need to have those ‘be gentle with the snow skills’ but this is the Olympics, we always get some surprises.”
Additional reporting by Mark Trevelyan and Rory Carroll, editing by Amlan Chakraborty