Skiers chasing speed record in World Cup downhill event
WENGEN, Switzerland (AP) -- An open field in the men's World Cup downhill on Saturday may deliver a winner who sets a speed record on the classic Lauberhorn slope, which boasts the fastest stretch on tour.
Carlo Janka, the 2010 Lauberhorn champion, raised the prospect of a record when he flashed past the speed gun at 98.66 mph Friday on the Hanneggschuss straight during a super-combined event. It was believed to be the highest speed ever recorded in Wengen.
"The track is in great shape, and the snow is hard everywhere," said Marco Sullivan, the American downhill racer who placed third here in 2009 and likes the quirky, old venue. "This is why we do it."
They'll do it without Bode Miller, Didier Cuche and defending champion Beat Feuz.
Two-time winner Miller said this week he'll skip the rest of the year to heal his surgically repaired knee before the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Cuche , a three-time runner-up, has retired. His quest for a victory in Switzerland's signature sports event was an annual drama.
Feuz is sidelined with a knee injury.
Race organizers say ideal snow and weather conditions are creating fast conditions, not any design changes on a course staging its 83rd annual event.
"We don't go for speed records," said Guenter Hujara, men's race director for the safety conscious International Ski Federation (FIS). "Hanneggschuss is, was and always will be in the future, the longest and fastest (straight) in our World Cup. We can let the racers go straight in this section because it is not that risky."
The safety promise was endorsed by Ivica Kostelic of Croatia, who has often been a thoughtful critic of FIS regulations.
"There's no danger there," Kostelic told The Associated Press after a downhill training run Wednesday. "I would support it if we can make parts of the course faster."
Wengen also has the slowest downhill section on tour, with racers braking through curves midway down at around 46 mph.
Racers hit their top speed 2 minutes into a 2 1/2-minute run, then slow during turns before entering a sweeping final S-bend that tests their stamina.
"The Ziel-S is difficult, as it should be," said Kjetil Jansrud of Norway, after being third-fastest in the downhill leg Friday. "It's Wengen spirit - no complaints."
Jansrud is fourth in the season-long downhill standings led by teammate Aksel Lund Svindal, who has a best finish of just eighth in seven Lauberhorn starts.
Svindal insists his more technical style, linking turns together, is not suited to the longer straights of Wengen. Still, he's on most rivals' list of favorites.
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