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USA's Mancuso finishes third in women's downhill training run

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — It took some major course work to turn the last big jump on the women's Olympic downhill from terrifying to rather tame.
/ Source: NBC Sports

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — It took some major course work to turn the last big jump on the women's Olympic downhill from terrifying to rather tame.

A one-hour delay, too. And three skiers sailing high into the air, with one racer even hurting both knees when she landed.

Quite a start on the new course.

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 skier Julia Mancuso was third, 0.38 seconds behind. Defending champion Lindsey Vonn is sitting out the Olympics after undergoing recent knee surgery.

Some of the skiers complained about the quality of forerunners that were used, believing that faster, more experienced course testers were needed to avoid what took place, with the opening three racers getting too much air on the jump down the home stretch.

That led to a lengthy delay to fix the course — something that does occasionally happen on the World Cup circuit. The three racers were given the option of running the course again, with only Laurenne Ross of the United States doing so.

Daniela Merighetti of Italy skipped the re-run after hurting both knees when she landed hard on the ground after the jump. She had her left knee examined later in the day and her coach, Raimund Plancker, said at the team captains' meeting that she "has nothing broken so she is OK."

Merighetti's teammate, Verena Stuffer, also elected not to race again.

"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 Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein as well after a run in which she finished fourth.

"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."

Women's race director Atle Skaardal grasped where the athletes' gripes were coming from and said: "We, of course, would always like to have better quality forerunners. But we can't blame them."

The International Ski Federation had workers adjusting the course for quite some time during the training run and then manicured it even more after the race.

"I think it's perfect or almost perfect now," Skaardal said. "We are quite confident now it is OK, but to be safe we have also adjusted the course setting. That will hopefully take down the speed in that section."

For some, it was smooth sailing once the jump was altered.

"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, Ross took the jump at a more leisurely pace, not really catching any air. She passed along a favorable course report up the mountain to her teammates, saying everything was just fine and they could attack it.

Mancuso did just that, too.

"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 the Sochi 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. "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. "It's tough when they're just not going quite as fast as you."