Ski jumper Takanashi eyes history, course safety blasted
Japan's Sara Takanashi competes in the Women's Ski Jumping Normal Hill Individual official training at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center during the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 9, 2014 in Rosa Khutor, near Sochi - by Peter Parks
The 17-year-old Takanashi, the reigning World Cup champion, is favourite to crown the sport's 10-year fight to have the discipline feature on the Olympic programme.
"I have already decided everything tactically and I'm going to stick to it," said Takanashi.
But in training so far at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Centre, the youngster has been pushed all the way by veteran Daniela Iraschko-Stolz, the openly gay Austrian who has been making headlines as much for her private life as for her prowess on the ski jump hill.
Should she win on Tuesday, however, she is adamant that she will not use the podium to protest Russia's controversial stance on gay issues.
"I don't think it's a good idea to make protests here. No one cares," said the 30-year-old, who added her partner's name -- Stolz -- to hers upon marriage. To jump pretty good is also a statement."
Reigning world champion Sarah Hendrickson has struggled in Sochi, finishing 27th and 23rd out of 30 jumpers in her two attempts in training.
The US teenager has been touted as a potential medal contender but is still fighting back after a knee operation five months ago.
Elsewhere on Tuesday, American snowboard star Shaun White, who pulled out of the slopestyle event, was looking for a third successive gold in the halfpipe.
But he became the latest competitor to criticise safety standards at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, which once again on Tuesday featured a series of spectacular crashes as the heats of the women's freestyle slopestyle got under way.
- It's dangerous at the moment -
"I'm hoping they figure out some way to make the pipe a little more manageable. It's definitely far from perfect," he said.
Ben Bright, the brother and coach of Australian medal hope Torah Bright was less diplomatic, launching a bitter tirade at the state of the halfpipe run.
"It is dangerous at the moment. You've got a mixed event going on -- moguls and halfpipe together -- so it's fucking retarded," he told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Canada's Kaya Turski, the women's slopestyle ski world champion, suffered one of the more dramatic falls Tuesday, crashing twice on the last jump, once on her stomach and the second time on her back, failing to reach the final as a result.
In her absence, compatriot Dara Howell took gold with a score of 94.20 points on her first run with Devin Logan of the US winning silver and Canada's Kim Lamarre in bronze.
However, Canada's Yuki Tsubota was stretchered off the course after an ugly-looking fall on her final run.
A team spokesman said later that the 20-year-old was conscious but had suffered a jaw injury.
Extreme Park has been dogged by criticism of its safety standards and the quality of its construction.
In the opening slopestyle snowboarding competition, White pulled out after crashing in training while medal favourite Torstein Horgmo had to withdraw after breaking his collarbone.
However, the International Olympic Committee defended the state of the course, claiming that the mild winter temperatures could be a factor.
"It's always a problem when it is a little bit warm but there is no problem with the halfpipe itself," said IOC spokesman Mark Adams.
"There is no suggestion that there is anything wrong with the halfpipe. As with events anywhere on snow when it is a little warm it can be a little challenging."
A total of eight golds are up for grabs on Tuesday with Norwegian cross-country star Marit Bjoergen targeting her second title in Sochi, looking to add the freestyle sprint to the skiathlon she won on Saturday. Bjoergen has eight Olympic medals, four of them gold.
In the men's sprint, Nikita Kriukov of Russia looks to defend his 2010 title although the sprint four years ago.
Elsewhere, South Korea's Lee Sang-Hwa defends her 500m speedskating title while golds are also up for grabs in women's freestyle skiing slopestyle, women's singles luge and women's biathlon 10km pursuit.