Gruber tops in training, but Maier gets rewarded
ARE, Sweden -- Christoph Gruber of Austria posted the fastest time in a cold and windy downhill training run yesterday in Are, Sweden, and defending champion Bode Miller finished 28th.
For Gruber, it wasn't good enough to make the Austrian downhill team at the Alpine Skiing World Championships. Hermann Maier was selected instead, despite posting the fourth-best time.
Gruber raced down the 4,050-foot Olympia course in 1 minute 50.26 seconds, followed by Erik Guay of Canada (1:50.28), Didier Cuche of Switzerland (1:50.38), and Maier (1:50.55).
Miller was 1.34 seconds off the leading pace and left without speaking to reporters.
For safety reasons, at least one downhill training session is required for skiers to race. But at the world championships -- where nations are allowed to enter only four skiers each -- training is often used for selections by many teams.
Austrians Michael Walchhofer, the winner of two downhills this season, and Mario Scheiber had already earned berths. Fritz Strobl, the 2002 Olympic downhill gold medalist, was chosen after taking silver in Tuesday's super-G.
"It's not the first time for me I have to qualify," said Maier, who had to earn a spot at the 2003 worlds after returning from an 18-month absence following a motorcycle accident.
The Olympia course, the same course used at last year's World Cup finals, is notorious for its big jumps. At last year's finals, racers went an average of 62 miles per hour, but hit speeds as high as 75.
High winds yesterday slowed skiers so they didn't soar as far, but organizers also shaved the jumps because they could be risky for inexperienced skiers. Temperatures dipped to minus-17 degrees.
The downhill training session came before today's altered super-combi because poor weather pushed back the start of the championships.