Olympic downhill: five things to know

Olympic downhill: five things to know

Pyeongchang (South Korea) (AFP) - The Pyeongchang Olympic alpine skiing programme kicks off Sunday with the blue riband event, the men's downhill.

Known as the ultimate test of raw speed, the downhill thrills have been somewhat diluted on a course judged too tame by some of skiings ultimate daredevils.

Upwards of 12 racers are in the frame for a gold-medal finish but the slightest mistake can cost anyone dear.

AFP looks at five things to know ahead of Sunday's race.

- Too easy for the Olympics?-

Many racers believe so.Italian Peter Fill referred to the course as a "nice slope", and said "maybe we need a harder slope, like Kitzbuehel", in reference to the dreaded Hahnenkamm, the toughest run on the World Cup circuit.Others suggested the absence of raw speed would add to the race's appeal."Its easiness makes it difficult to be fast, that'll make the downhill interesting," says Switzerland's defending world champion Beat Feuz.

- Too hard to double up -

Reigning champion Matthias Mayer of Austria could become the first racer to win a second gold in the Olympic downhill.Only five other men have managed to win multiple medals in the event.One of those is Switzerland's Bernhard Russi, who won gold in 1972 and silver four years later.Russi has worked for the International Ski Federation (FIS) as course designer of all Olympic courses since 1980 and was the key architect behind the Jeongseon course.

- Too many trees lost -

Russi has never had a tougher task than designing the Jeongseon Olympic downhill.With no existing downhill piste that met FIS rules on length and altitude drop, the new course was cut through an ancient forest on Mount Gariwang.Millions of trees were destroyed on a site considered sacred by locals due to the ginseng once harvested there for the 15th century Chosun dynasty.In a first for the Olympics, men and women will race down the same downhill course in a compromise to avoid further deforestation of one of the most remote areas of densely populated South Korea.

- Cowboy grooms the snow -

The unlikely figure of American Tommy Johnston, who farms in Wyoming for half the year, helps ensure snow of the highest standard.The self-professed cowboy happens to be one of the world's leading snow surface experts."My hayfields are the same way — I want them to be perfect," he says.The surface on Jeongseon comprises hard-packed, largely manmade snow, much to the delight of Johnston and racers."The snow is perfect!The guys did an amazing job," said US downhiller Bryce Bennett."They've been here for months working their tails off and it turned out perfect."

- Too late for Svindal?-

Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal went home with a medal of every colour from the 2010 Vancouver Games but failed to bother the podiums in Sochi.The five-time world champion is now 35 and coming to the end of a stellar career, but fancies his chances after victories in two World Cup downhills and one super-G this season.Svindal looked at home on the Jeongseon course where he will be challenged by Kjetil Jansrud, who maintained Norway's grip on the super-G with gold in Sochi alongside downhill bronze.It would take a brave punter to bet against them.

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