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home : sports : regional February 26, 2015

Olympic Notebook: Miller Tops Opening DH Training Session

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- Bode Miller mastered the Olympic course on his very first run Thursday, leading the opening downhill training session.

A bronze medalist in the event four years ago, the 36-year-old Miller clocked 2 minutes, 7.75 seconds down the Rosa Khutor piste, where he injured his left knee two years ago during the Sochi test event.

"Unfortunately they don't give you medals for training runs," said Miller, who also led the only training run on the famed Streif course in Kitzbuehel, Austria, last month, but then made a big error in the race, finishing third. "If they did, I would be psyched today. But it certainly doesn't hurt to come out here and ski well first run. I just have to keep trimming time."

Patrick Kueng of Switzerland, who won the classic downhill in Wengen on home snow last month, was second, a slim 0.03 seconds behind. Matthias Mayer of Austria was third, 0.17 behind.

Marco Sullivan of the United States was fourth, although he was one of several skiers who missed gates on their way down. Christof Innerhofer of Italy was fifth, 0.69 behind, and should be a contender on a course that suits him.

Erik Guay of Canada and Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway, two other big favorites, were seventh and eighth, respectively.

Svindal took too straight of a line in several sections and had to slow down to make a few gates.

"It was a bad run actually, to be honest," Svindal said. "I mean 1.2 behind I would definitely like to be faster. But I have some big things I need to change. So I'm not too worried."

Two more training sessions are scheduled before Sunday's race opens the Alpine events.

Miller cut his 2011-12 season short after his injury in Sochi then had microfracture surgery and took all of last season off to let his knee properly heel. Showing off a slimmed down physique this season, Miller quickly regained his form and finished second in a World Cup giant slalom in December. Then he had two podium results in Kitzbuehel last month.

But last weekend he banged up his right knee during a crash in a giant slalom in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

"It's still puffed up a little bit and a little bit sore," Miller said. "There's nothing wrong with it, just got banged hard."

Consequently, Miller was a bit tentative on the Sochi course's biggest jump, labeled the Russian Trampoline, which comes midway down.

"It's really bumpy and rattley," he said of the icy landing area. "That's one of the places where I went way out in the soft snow."

Overall, though, Miller was pleased to see that the course hadn't been altered much since the 2012 test event, in which several other skiers were also injured.

"They didn't dumb it down much, which is nice," said Miller, who finished fourth in the test downhill. "They didn't ice the top, which is understandable -- the turns are huge up there. The swing and turns would make it very tough for guys on top if it were icy. It would be better for me but that's fine. I still feel like I have the ability to ski that top and put time on guys.

"But once you come out of the chute all the way down they didn't take anything away. The speeds are up, the terrain is challenging and the jumps are big," added Miller, who showed off the U.S. team's new white racing suits. "There's a lot of different places where you can make mistakes and where it's really challenging -- especially linking sections together."

The training session was held in perfect conditions, under a bright sun and clear skies. The snow was grippy on top, icier in the middle section and softer at the bottom where the temperature was above freezing.

"It's interesting," Svindal said. "We have perfect winter snow. Then you have ice that looks like it's breaking up a little bit, so it's bumpy ice in the middle section and I think that combination to me looks like maybe the most challenging part of this downhill right now."

Svindal said the course suits Miller.

"So I'm not surprised but I also think I can catch up a lot of that time. Because I made some mistakes," said the Norwegian, who took silver behind Dider Defago of Switzerland in the downhill at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

All 61 racers who started reached the finish.

STARTING GATE: Today is selection day for the Austrian and U.S. men's downhill squads at the Sochi Olympics.

Each team has four starting spots for Sunday's race.

For Austria, Matthias Mayer and Max Franz have already qualified and five other racers are fighting for the remaining two spots: Georg Streitberger, Romed Baumann, Otmar Striedinger, Klaus Kroell and Joachim Puchner.

Mayer was third in Thursday's first training session, Franz was eighth and the others finished between 19th and 35th places.

Austrian men's head coach Mathias Berthold says "it will be decided by times of tomorrow's training runs."

For the Americans, Bode Miller, Travis Ganong and Marco Sullivan already have spots. Coach Sasha Rearick says Steven Nyman, Erik Fisher and Jared Goldberg are in the running for the final selection.

KEARNEY: In Krasnaya Polyana, the flashback hit Hannah Kearney out of nowhere.

That's when the defending gold medalist in women's moguls decided she needed to turn her brain off and just do her thing.

It worked.

The American's quest for an Olympic repeat started flawlessly Thursday as she easily topped qualifying. The 27-year-old from Norwich, Vt., posted a score of 23.05 to move into Saturday's finals and move one step closer to bookending the gold she won in Vancouver four years ago.

Canadian Chloe Dufour-Lapointe finished second in qualifying, just ahead of younger sister Justine and older sister Maxime, who came in eighth. The trio declined interview requests to focus on the next step.

Kearney initially hoped to grab gold in Turin in 2006, when she was a 19-year-old world champion entering her prime. Instead she crashed during qualifying, tumbling over one of the early bumps in the course.

It nearly happened again during training earlier in the week, providing Kearney with a haunting reminder of Turin.

"I thought, 'Oh, boy, we don't need this problem again,'" Kearney said.

She needn't have worried. Knees seemingly magnetized together as she navigated the moguls, Kearney posted the second-fastest time down the hill and highlighted it with a pair of well executed if not quite perfect jumps that allayed any concerns about the course's safety.

"I think that everywhere we go, every World Cup venue, we show up and say, 'Oh, my god. How are we going to make it down this course? This is impossible,'" Kearney said.

After some tweaking by officials, the slopes of the Caucasus Mountains looked no different than most other moguls events over the last four years, with the top-ranked Kearney looking down at the rest of the field.

"The course is great," she said. "It's challenging but in a very positive way. It's going to separate the weak skiers from the strong skiers, hopefully."

The top 10 skiers earned an automatic berth into the finals, with the remaining competitors returning for a second qualifying run on Saturday. The top 20 qualifiers make the finals, which will be held in three stages as the field is whittled down to 12 then six before a champion is crowned.

American Eliza Outtrim came in fourth, though teammates Heather McPhie and Heidi Kloser have work to do. McPhie slipped to 14th while Kloser didn't even get to the starting gate. The 21-year-old injured her leg during warm-ups and needed to be helped down the mountain. Her status for the second qualifier remains uncertain.

Jung-Hwa Seo of South Korea lost an edge in training and took an ugly fall that saw her leave on a stretcher. Japan's Miki Ito veered into a wall after landing a jump during practice and also did not compete.

It was a painful reminder how just how narrow the margin is in a sport that Kearney can make look easy at times. Though she would not have been eliminated even if she crashed on Thursday, the memory of 2006 keeps her sharp as she tries to become the first moguls skier to win consecutive gold medals.

Saturday's finals will feature three runs, just like every other event. Only, not really -- because this is the Olympics.

"You have expectations of how you should feel when it's the Olympics," Kearney said. "Then when you don't, you think, 'Am I not excited enough? Am I too excited? Am I relaxed? Am I nervous?' Ugh. Too much thinking, time to go skiing."

TY WALKER: In Krasnaya Polyana, Russia, Stowe's Ty Walker might be the youngest member of the U.S. snowboarding team, but try telling that to her aching right heel. Or her back, for that matter.

The 16-year-old lazily glided down the slopestyle course during qualifying on Thursday, skipping the big jumps and testy rails that have caused plenty of concern among her teammates.

Walker wasn't chickening out. She was trying to be smart. Knowing the heel she bruised during a particularly bumpy landing wasn't going to get any better if she tried to grind through qualifying and knowing she was guaranteed a spot in the semifinals this weekend, Walker took a leisurely stroll down the mountain.

The next 48 hours figure to be filled with ice baths every 90 minutes, using crutches to get around and maybe even a shot to numb the pain.

Yes, a shot. Like the kind football players use. Did we mention the part where she's 16?

"I've been doing this sport awhile," Walker said with a somewhat weary laugh.

And if the heel isn't much better when the semifinals start? "I'll just numb it up and give it my best," she said before limping back to the team hotel, board in hand and heel (she hopes) on the mend.

ST. LOUIS: Canada's Olympic hockey team has picked a healthy Tampa Bay Lightning forward to replace an injured one.

Hockey Canada announced Thursday that Martin St. Louis is on the roster for the Sochi games to replace Steven Stamkos. St. Louis starred at the University of Vermont.

Doctors ruled out Stamkos on Wednesday because he hasn't recovered sufficiently from a broken right leg.

Stamkos has been practicing and hoped to play for the Lightning on Saturday night against Detroit in their final game before the Olympic break. He had 14 goals and nine assists in 17 games this season.

Steve Yzerman, the Canadians' executive director and Tampa Bay's general manager, chose St. Louis over Philadelphia's Claude Giroux and Pittsburgh's James Neal.

St. Louis had 54 points in 56 games, entering Thursday night's game against Toronto.

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