Here's one landscape that did change today
So back to a landscape that did change, the beautiful picture postcard here, where a crisp, clear and stunningly sunny morning gave way to cloudy in a hurry. So what, you might ask?
Well, in the middle of a World Cup training session, it turns out to have a large effect on things. The course, in what the skiers call flat light, changes character and tends to slow down. This surely is a relative term because these guys move awfully quickly, even the “slow’’ ones.
I had almost forgotten that it’s always a gas at the bottom of a ski hill, watching these fearless athletes turn from dots far up the mountainside into, mere seconds later, snow-throwing skiers screeching to a halt mere yards away. These guys are seriously fast; on-course wobbles detected on the large video screens are easily recognizable and translate into the precious tenths and hundredths of a second that separate the very best from the second flight.
Michael Walchhofer, the Austrian star who has won 14 World Cup races, Olympic silver in 2006 and the 2003 downhill world championship, was the quickest down a course where he won six years ago. The rest of the field lines up behind him, separated by degress of those precious fractions of a second. John Kucera, who won here in 2006 and is the reigning downhill world champion, is the best of the Canadians, a solid fourth albeit nearly a second off Walchhofer’s time.
After the first flight of skiers had gone, clouds blew in, obliterating the sunshine and changing the course drastically. There was even snow at the top of the hill and most of the later skiers got far from the best of it.
There’s a keen sense of anticipation here for Saturday’s race. It’s the first race of the World Cup speed season in a year in which the Olympics looms very large.It’s held on a course on which Canadians have done well in the past and look at the list of fastest qualifiers, which is a good indicator, although not always definitive, of the contenders..
Behind Walchhofer, whose credentials are easy to recognize, comes Bode Miller, the talented
Ski fans, at least, can fasten their seat belts.