By Bob Barnett
SESTRIERE, ITALY – No one wanted to catch Manuel Osborne-Paradis in Saturday’s final Olympic downhill training run — which is different than no one being able to catch him, but it is still encouraging.
The Whistler Mountain Ski Club alumnus was second out of the start and wound up with the second fastest time on the Kandahar-Banchetta course at Sestriere this afternoon. But with most of the top downhillers standing up prior to the finish the results don’t give any hint of how things will turnout for tomorrow’s race.
Blue skies and minimal, water-injected snow have allowed for three training runs under ideal conditions this week. As a result, all the competitors are well prepared for Sunday’s race and few of the favourites wanted to show their hand with a fast time in the last training run.
Swiss Didier Defago finished seventh today but wished he’d gone slower.
“I went too fast. I wanted to brake a little more to get a lower bib number for tomorrow,” he said.
But American Daron Rahlves, who finished 10 th today and is one of the favourites for tomorrow’s race, was less concerned about where he starts.
“If it was perfect I’d like to be starting like five or something like that,” Rahlves said.
“It’s just one of those things with our sport that you just kind of have to forget and wherever you start it’s where you’ve got to start, so you just have to deal with the conditions and make it happen from wherever you are. You can’t be bummed out about starting a little further back.”
Osborne-Paradis may be starting a little further back than he
would have liked in tomorrow’s race, but as the youngest downhiller in the top
group, his week has to be encouraging. He was 16
second training run, after finishing 36
— and nearly five
seconds behind Rahlves — in Thursday’s first training run.
Osborne-Paradis’s times over the three training runs, on a course that hasn’t changed all week, have gone from 1:54.37 to 1:51.25 to today’s 1:49.92.
Antoine Deneriaz of France “won” the final training run in 1 minute 49.89 seconds, slightly slower than the winning time in each of the first two training runs. Marco Buechel of Lichtenstein was third, .30 seconds behind Deneriaz.
Francois Bourque, of New Richmond, Quebec, was 22 nd today, 1.33 seconds off the pace after starting with bib number 40. John Kucera of Calgary was 27 th , 1.72 seconds behind Deneriaz, after starting 36 th . Ryan Semple of Mont Tremblant, who is expected to race the combined but will probably skip Sunday’s downhill, was 36 th .
Tomorrow’s forecast is calling for a few clouds but temperatures should remain near today’s average of – 9.
With leader Erik Guay being forced to sit out the men’s downhill due to a leg injury the Canadian team is not expecting to win a medal in tomorrow’s race. But as the youngest group of downhillers at Sestriere — Osborne-Paradis, Kucera and Bourque were all born in 1984 — they are gaining valuable Olympic experience that may serve them well four years down the road at Whistler.