Updated: Thursday, 06 February 2014 19:11 | By Agence France-Presse

Fenninger tops Olympic downhill ski training after stoppage

Austrian Anna Fenninger topped the standings of the first women's Olympic downhill training run on Thursday, but only after a lengthy stoppage as organisers altered the configuration of the final jump.

Fenninger tops Olympic downhill ski training after stoppage

Austria's Anna Fenninger jumps during a Women's Alpine Skiing Downhill training session at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center on February 6, 2014 - by Dimitar Dilkoff

The women got under way on schedule but only four runners had come down the 2.7km-long course when the International Ski Federation (FIS) decided to call a halt and hold the programme again.

Italy's Daniela Merighetti suffered a heavy fall, and course workers were quickly on site to shave snow off the lip of the final jump.

"I was thrown five metres into the air. It's not the length of the jump that causes the problem so much as the height, especially as it comes after a blind bend," said the Italian who escaped serious injury.

Fenninger timed 1min 41.73sec after the re-start, finishing 0.21sec ahead of Fraenzi Aufdenblatten, with American veteran Julia Mancuso, the defending Olympic downhill silver medallist, in third at 0.38sec.

One of the favourites for the downhill title is 29-year-old German Maria Hoefl-Riesch, the defending slalom and super-combined champion from Vancouver where she became the first woman to finish inside the top 15 in all five events at a Winter Games.

Hoefl-Riesch finished eighth in both the downhill and super-G four years ago, and 10th in the giant slalom, but has turned her sights on the blue-riband event of the alpine skiing line-up.

The German finished in sixth at 1.07sec off the pace, but said she felt "in great shape, as I did before Vancouver four years ago".

"They told us to brake before the final jump, but I didn't have to because I'd made so many mistakes up to there!"

Hoefl-Riesch, who has this season claimed double downhill victories in Lake Louise and latterly won in Cortina, also nabbing a second place and three third-place finishes in an extremely consistent showing, also won on the Rosa Khutor piste when a test event was held in 2012.

"It's a great course and much improved since two years ago," she said.

The first starter on the aborted opening programme was American Laurenne Ross, who eventually came in 14th at her second attempt and joked that she had been a "test dummy".

She said it had been the right decision to shave the bump, in sight of the 7,500-seater arena, "beneficial for athletes, their safety and knees!"

"It doesn't feel like you're flying incredibly high, it's just that you get very high off the ground," she said.

"The slope just drops off and you're going straight and that's the kind of the problem.

"When you come down you just come down pretty hard, it's hard on the knees and the body."

Ross, like many other racers, questioned the standard of the handful of "forerunners" who descend the piste before the main race begins to give competitors an idea of the course.

"I was up top, and I was like 'You're welcome for being the test dummy, I'll do it, don't worry'," she said.

"I was definitely intimidated and I skied a little bit like I was intimidated. That's why we've got three training runs and I'm actually happy that I can say I'm the first ski racer down in the Olympics."

The American added: "It would be more settling for us who have the first couple of bibs to have athletes running that were going as fast as we're going.

"That's what forerunners are for, to test the track, to give you a course report and it's tough when they're not going quite as fast as you because you know get more air and have more speed."

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