Winter Olympics Sochi 2014

Winter Olympics Sochi 2014

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Swiss Skier Gisin Leads Women's Downhill Training

Swiss downhill skier, Dominique Gisin let the third women's Olympic downhill training session.

By Pat Graham
|  Saturday, Feb 8, 2014  |  Updated 5:56 AM EDT
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AP

Switzerland's Dominique Gisin makes a turn during a women's downhill training run for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

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Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany skipped the third women's Olympic downhill training run to rest. So, too, did Tina Maze of Slovenia and Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein.

With starting spots already secured, they had that luxury on Saturday.

Dominique Gisin did not. Nor did her Swiss teammate Nadja Jnglin-Kamer.

For them, this was a race day, because only one position on the four-person Swiss downhill team was still available. The Americans were in a similar situation, using the training session to decide who skied in the women's race on Wednesday.

So there was plenty of pressure for a simple practice run.

Gisin breezed through the tight track and finished in 1 minute, 42.37 seconds to not only lead the session but secure her spot on the Swiss team. Jnglin-Kamer went all out, too, only to crash near the finish line. She gingerly got up and brushed herself off, skiing the rest of the run while holding her left hand. She broke into tears in the finish area.

Barring injury, she won't be taking the starting line for the downhill race. The other Swiss spots were grabbed by Lara Gut (she won a downhill in Beaver Creek, Colo., earlier this season), Fabienne Suter (she won Friday's training session) and Marianne Kaufmann-Abderhalden (by virtue of winning in Val d'Isere, France, in December).

"It was a lot of pressure, but for me it was good that I could handle the pressure and that gives me a lot of confidence," said Gisin, who held off Gut by 0.19 seconds on Saturday, with Kajsa Kling of Sweden finishing third, 0.25 behind. "Now I am looking to do maybe one easy training," session.

The Americans had had two spots up for grabs. Californians Julia Mancuso and Stacey Cook were already locks, leaving Laurenne Ross, newcomer Jacqueline Wiles of Portland and Leanne Smith all scurrying down the mountain for a chance to race on Wednesday when things really count.

The two remaining spots will soon be announced by U.S. coaches, possibly even Saturday night.

Ross, of Bend, Ore., virtually clinched her spot by finishing fifth in the race. Wiles looked to have the other spot wrapped up, too, when she wound up fourth, but she missed some gates up top. She was hardly discouraged, though.

"Still exciting to see my name up there," Wiles said.

Smith was 22nd, meaning U.S. coaches have to use other criteria to essentially pick between Wiles and Smith, who is from North Conway, N.H.

"It's out of my control now," Smith said. "I've been working hard in training, and feeling good. But it's just not carrying over to downhill right at the moment. Hopefully it's something I can figure out real soon."

This has been quite a journey for Wiles, who's steadily progressed throughout the season, to the point where she might make even the squad.

Surreal for sure, the 21-year-old conceded.

"It's way more than I ever thought," Wiles said. "I was planning on just doing a couple of World Cup races at the beginning of the year, dip my feet into the circuit a little bit. But I ended up doing well and they kept taking me and taking me (to races). Now, I'm here. It's just crazy."

Just to show how tough it was to make the Swiss team — all six of the skiers in contention are in the top 25 in the World Cup downhill standings. Only the Austrians have more depth.

"It is always tough for the countries with a lot of good athletes," Gisin explained. "It is the same for America in track and field, I think."

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