KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — The super-G was running so extreme that seven of the opening eight racers slid, tumbled, careened and glided off the course, unable to finish.
In all, 18 of 49 racers failed to make it across the finish line.
Leave it to the Austrians to solve a tricky course designed by one of their coaches. This nation, no matter how tough the track, just seems to shine in this discipline.
Anna Fenninger became the third Austrian in a row to win the women’s super-G at the Olympics, finding a smooth way through the uneven course Saturday. She finished in 1 minute, 25.52 seconds, edging Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany by 0.55 seconds. Nicole Hosp of Austria was third.
With that, the Austrians are off to a soaring start at the Sochi Games, leading the Alpine standings with four medals. That already matches the total this skiing-proud nation had the entire time in Vancouver four years ago.
Pressure’s now off, right?
“We have a lot of pressure — that is our sport,” said Austrian coach Florian Winkler, who designed the challenging course that skiers only had a brief time to inspect.
Starting 17th and wearing a cheetah-themed print on her helmet, Fenninger flew along the course, hardly bothered by the bumps. She made sure the super-G title remained with Austria after Andrea Fischbacher took gold in 2010 and Michaela Dorfmeister did so at the 2006 Turin Games.
Racers from Austria have dominated this Olympic event since the super-G began at the 1988 Calgary Games. The country has now won eight of a possible 24 medals.
“I don’t know why we can win so much medals (in super-G),” Fenninger said. “I think we just like it.”
The combination of soft snow and a tight course design by Winkler had early skiers struggling to just make it down. A super-G course typically has tighter turns than a downhill. The part giving the skiers the most trouble came after the final jump, when they couldn’t slow down enough to clear a series of tight gates.
The rate at which skiers were going off course led Kjetil Jansrud of Norway to post on Twitter: “I am speechless for the moment. Looks like it’s difficult, but this is crazy. #DNFbonanza.”
Carolina Ruiz Castillo of Spain was the first racer out of the start gate — and promptly crashed seven seconds into her run.
Of the first eight to begin, only American racer Leanne Smith made it down cleanly. She had the momentary lead, which actually looked like it might just hold up since no one could seem to finish.
This is a sampling of how it went for some others:
— Daniela Merighetti of Italy clipped a gate and went off course.
— Marie Marchand-Arvier of France slid off early and screamed in frustration.
— Kajsa Kling of Sweden missed a lower gate.
And so on.
“The setting is very hard,” Merighetti explained.
Hoefl-Riesch and Hosp certainly had no trouble navigating the hill and added to their medal collections in Sochi. They went 1-2 in the super-combined earlier this week.
For Hoefl-Riesch, there was an extra obstacle to deal with in her run Saturday — a course worker who was near a gate.
“I was not really influenced by that,” said Hoefl-Riesch, who boosted her career Olympic medal count to four. “It was not a problem for me. Of course, this shouldn’t happen, because it’s dangerous.”
Pre-race favorites Lara Gut of Switzerland and Tina Maze of Slovenia were fourth and fifth. Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein didn’t compete after hurting her right leg in a crash during downhill training last weekend.
Julia Mancuso of the United States said she became hesitant after watching so many others before her struggle on the course. She wound up eighth.
“I think that I could have been more on the limit. But in a way, you still want to cross the finish line,” Mancuso said.
The Americans are feeling the heat after capturing just one medal through five events (Mancuso’s bronze in the super-combined). The squad had a team-record eight medals in Vancouver.
Then again, they are without Lindsey Vonn, who’s out of the Olympics after having surgery on her knee.
“She was the leader of the team,” said Peter Schroecksnadel, the president of the Austrian ski federation. “I think that hurts the Americans very much.”