KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — One my favorite pre-Olympic alpine events is the Austrian “bake-off” for four downhill starting spots.
Unlike the World Cup circuit, each country is only allowed four entries in Olympic events. That cranks up the pressure for the New York Yankees of alpine, who are forced to leave off a skier who could have won a medal.
The Austrians, for example, have 10 racers ranked in the top 32 of the current World Cup downhill rankings.
Matthias Mayer and Max Franz had already locked up two spots, leaving five Austrians to compete for the last two spots in Friday’s second downhill training run.
Klaus Kroell claimed one spot by finishing tied for third, while George Streitberger won the last spot.
Kroell said skiers understand what is at stake.
“It’s OK, everybody knew it was coming up and we all know each other,” Kroell said. “So it’s not a problem.”
Mayer, who won Friday’s training run after finishing third on Thursday, has emerged as an unlikely favorite for Sunday’s Olympic downhill.
Mayer, 23, has never finished better than fifth in a World Cup downhill.
Austria is eager to amend for its poor showing in Vancouver, where the men failed to win an alpine medal at the 2010 Olympics.
The Austrians lead all countries with 105 Olympic alpine medals, followed by Switzerland with 56.
Bode Miller, America’s top medal contender, finished a solid sixth Friday after winning Thursday’s run.
“I skied great, I just made one really big mistake today,” Miller said, “but I was definitely more tired than I was yesterday.”
Miller, 36, owns an American record five Olympic alpine medals but has never won the downhill. He took bronze four years ago at Vancouver.
Miller, Marco Sullivan and Travis Ganong have secured U.S. spots for Sunday’s race. Steven Nyman, Erik Fisher and Jared Goldberg are competing for the final bib.
There will be one more training run Saturday in advance of Sunday’s race.
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