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Italy's Verena Stuffer gestures in the finish area after completing a women's downhill training run at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. AP Photo/Gero Breloer)
Austria’s Fenninger tops in Olympic downhill training run
First Published Feb 06 2014 09:39 am • Last Updated Feb 07 2014 04:50 pm

Krasnaya Polyana, Russia • The big jump near the end of the women’s Olympic downhill was described by skiers as "smooth" and "just fine" and even "easy."

Then again, that was after some major course work Thursday helped turn the final feature from terrifying to rather tame.

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Anna Fenninger of Austria had the fastest time in a training run that had to be halted early on so workers could alter a harrowing jump. Fenninger finished the tricky course in 1 minute, 41.73 seconds to put herself 0.21 seconds ahead of Fraenzi Aufdenblatten of Switzerland. American Julia Mancuso was third.

"It was smooth," Mancuso said of the last jump. "You’re going a little bit slower than most downhills and then it just shoots up. It feels more difficult than it is."

That part of the course was causing all sorts of difficulties earlier in the day. The training session was stopped after the opening three racers were getting too much air on the jump down the home stretch. After an hour delay, the three racers were given the option of running the course again, with only American Laurenne Ross doing so.

Daniela Merighetti of Italy skipped the re-run after hurting both knees when she landed. She was scheduled to have her left knee examined to see if there was any damage.

Her teammate Verena Stuffer also elected not to race again.

Part of the issue was the forerunners who tested out the course before the skiers. They didn’t reach the kind of speeds the women did on the track, so the jump wasn’t an issue until Ross went down, followed by Stuffer and then Merighetti. Each sailed quite far in the air.

"I’m upset they didn’t have more expert forerunners," Merighetti said after her run. "They would’ve known not to send us down."

That sentiment was shared by Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather as well after a run in which she finished fourth.

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"The problem is we don’t have really good test runners and forerunners," said Weirather, who finished 0.53 seconds behind Fenninger. "We should have two very good forerunners, just retired, paying them for one or two years, doing just that. Then we would have a responsible test run and then it would be much safer."

The International Ski Federation had workers adjusting the course for quite some time. After that, it was smooth sailing.

"For me, the jump was easy," Tina Maze of Slovenia said. "I didn’t jump far. I heard the others went pretty high (earlier in the day)."

They certainly did. Ross was the first skier of the day to go and sailed over the final jump — and just kept sailing, and sailing, and sailing.

"You feel like you’re never going to come down," she said.

On her second pass, she told her teammates that the jump was now just fine and that they could attack it. Mancuso did just that.

"This course is technical and faster than I thought," said Mancuso, who captured two silver medals at the 2010 Vancouver Games. "It’s definitely faster."

She’s referring to two years ago, when there was a test race held on this course. Back then, the conditions weren’t as good as Thursday, Lara Gut of Switzerland said.

"Now, it’s right," said Gut, one of the favorites in the downhill, especially with defending champion Lindsey Vonn sidelined after having recent knee surgery. "They prepared a really nice downhill."

Ross felt honored to be the first skier through the Olympic course, even if the experience was a little "intimidating." She said she held back a bit, just to get the lay of the land.

Still, the jump definitely caught her by surprise. Like Merighetti and Weirather, Ross said more experienced forerunners are necessary.

"It would be a little bit more settling for us that have the first couple of bibs, to have athletes going as fast as we’re going," Ross said. "That’s what forerunners are for, to test the track and give you a course report. It’s tough when they’re just not going quite as fast as you. You know you’re going to get more air."

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