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Alpine Skiing

Women’s course to be made safer

Sweden’s Anja Paerson tumbled near the finish, one of many crashes that marred the women’s downhill race yesterday. Sweden’s Anja Paerson tumbled near the finish, one of many crashes that marred the women’s downhill race yesterday. (Gero Breloer/Associated Press)
By Graham Dunbar
Associated Press / February 18, 2010

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WHISTLER, British Columbia - The final jump on the women’s Olympic Alpine ski course will be changed for safety reasons after a series of crashes marred yesterday’s downhill race.

“We will try to ease things down a little bit,’’ women’s race director Atle Skaardal said. “I think [the course] was acceptable, for sure. But it’s very difficult, no question about it.’’

Sweden’s Anja Paerson, a former downhill world champion, seemed headed for a silver medal behind Lindsey Vonn but flew 60 meters through the air before landing badly and sliding headfirst over the finish line. Paerson bruised her left calf and was shaken up, but otherwise appeared OK, said Sweden team official Ulf Lars Emilsson.

Switzerland’s Dominique Gisin fell on the same jump in sight of thousands of finish-area spectators, some gasping as she skidded down the slope and was tossed in the air by a ridge of banked snow at the side of the course. She later reported feeling dizzy, but otherwise was uninjured.

Racers’ skills were tested by a slick, fast surface created after days of rain and snow froze overnight. At 2.94 kilometers (1.83 miles) long, it’s one of the most demanding courses on the women’s circuit.

Skaardal said an icy crest where racers launch into the jump - known as Hot Air - would be lowered before today’s super combined.

It had already been altered after practice Monday because of concerns it could be dangerous.

“We wouldn’t push the limits and decided after the training run that it was a good idea to shave the jump a little bit,’’ Skaardal said.

The downhill portion of the event is also being shortened to lower racers’ speeds and help them avoid making mistakes through weariness. Several skiers fell exhausted in the finish area yesterday.

“We will shave the final jump one more time and we will also move the start down. Then they will not get that tired,’’ Skaardal said.

A highest recorded speed of 67.9 miles per hour was reached yesterday by Lucia Recchia of Italy, who finished ninth.

Vonn peaked at 66.4 m.p.h. during her winning run of 1 minute 44.19 seconds.

Skaardal said the race surface was icier and faster than in training, when the 45 downhill starters tested the course in split sessions, the top in the morning and the bottom in the afternoon.

That arrangement avoided a clash with the men’s downhill medal race on an adjoining hill that shares a common finish area, but it also meant the women did not race into the Hot Air jump at full speed.

“It’s for sure a challenge for the racers when they are not able to do at least one perfect training run from the start to the finish,’’ Skaardal said.

The tone was set when a forerunner testing the course fell and slid over the finish line.

The first official racer, Klara Kristova of the Czech Republic, then fell in a midsection.

Lower-ranked Edith Miklos of Romania was catapulted through safety nets when she lost control, and was airlifted to a hospital. Her injuries were not immediately disclosed.

Two racers after Gisin fell, Italy’s Daniela Merighetti sprawled headfirst along the flats before the Hot Air.

Marion Rolland of France fell within meters of leaving the start house and was treated for a leg injury.

A third women’s speed event, the super-G, is scheduled Saturday. Racers then switch to the slower but more technical giant slalom and slalom medal races next week.