By Mark Trevelyan
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) – Italy’s Christof Innerhofer set the pace on the second day of training for the men’s Olympic downhill on Friday after strong winds delayed the start and forced organizers to set a shorter course.
The Italian, a silver medalist in Sochi four years ago, underlined his status as one of the favorites by shooting up to the top of the timesheet in Friday’s run, having placed only 17th on Thursday.
On his shoulder, a clutch of the other top contenders also signaled their intent.
Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud placed second, as on Thursday, followed by Switzerland’s Beat Feuz, 2014 champion Matthias Mayer of Austria, Norwegian veteran Aksel Lund Svindal and American Bryce Bennett.
“The wind from behind for sure helped me,” Innerhofer said after sweeping down the course at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre in one minute, 18.97 seconds, a hundredth of a second ahead of Jansrud.
“It felt the course was much faster and the gate coming much quicker, it was much better for my skiing. I felt I was fast – it was strange because it was very different from yesterday.”
Jansrud, however, warned reporters against reading too much into the day’s results.
“Looking at the time, for Innerhofer and me, I think I got some tailwind,” said the 2014 Olympic Super G champion.
“That’s the problem with the lower start, they even moved the gate due to take down the speed on the first jump, so it’s not a training run that tells us very much.”
Svindal, who moved up 15 places from 20th on Thursday, said that with the wind and the cold “it felt all of a sudden way faster”.
The skiers have three training runs to master the jumps and map the best line down the mountain before competing in the purest speed event of the Alpine skiing disciplines, which also include Super G, giant slalom, slalom and a new team event.
But the timing of the final, scheduled for Sunday, has been thrown into doubt as weather forecasters predict the winds to strengthen.
On Thursday race officials said they were considering alternative plans in case of a postponement, but the option of moving the race forward by a day had already been rejected.
International Ski Federation (FIS) Chief Race Director Markus Waldner said winds in excess of 30 knots (55.6 kph) would close the gondola that transports the skiers to the top of the mountain for the opening race of the 2018 Olympics.
(Additional reporting by Nick Mulvenney and Simon Evans; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)