Years after bad crashes, finish jump returns in Kitzbuehel

KITZBUEHEL, Austria (AP) The disputed and sometimes dangerous jump at the end of the Kitzbuehel course is back.

Seven years after American skier Scott Macartney's near-fatal crash, racers in Saturday's downhill will be airborne again just before crossing the finish line.

Organizers changed the bottom of the hill after Macartney in 2008, and Switzerland's Daniel Albrecht the following year, suffered life-threatening brain injuries when they lost their balance in the air and smashed on the icy slope in two similar, horrifying crashes.

However, the section was better marked and less dangerous, organizers said. And the jump hasn't caused major troubles in the two trainings this week.

''It's working pretty good,'' Hannes Trinkl, the FIS director for men's speed races, said. ''It's wide enough, and it's very important that it's not too high. It's a really nice jump.''

Bringing back one of the marquee segments of the classic downhill was a wish from local organizers.

''It belongs to `Kitz' and it isn't something dangerous,'' chief of race Peter Obernauer said. ''It's precisely marked now. The racer knows exactly where he will take off and can prepare for it.''

That was the problem in 2008 when Macartney, racing on his 30th birthday, approached the finish while going nearly 140 kph (90 mph) and misjudged the jump, as U.S. men's head coach Sasha Rearick recalled it.

''We have to be careful to make sure that the take-off point is very well defined because that was the cause of the accidents in the past,'' Rearick said. ''In Scott's case, they brought the cats in to do some work on the jump. It changed where the take-off point was so that was not easily seen at inspection.''

Macartney slammed his head on the snow, lost his helmet and slid unconscious across the finish line.

Twelve months later, Albrecht leaned backward on the same jump, failed to adjust his position, and landed on his back and head.

Macartney and Albrecht, who was the super-combined world champion at that time, were kept in an induced coma to prevent brain damage. They finally returned to the World Cup but retired after failing to reach their old level.

Weeks ago, the International Ski Federation discussed restoring the jump with the racers.

''They asked us about it in Santa Caterina,'' American downhiller Steven Nyman said. ''The biggest thing is the in-run needs to be clean, and it's fine. They made a great in-run to it, and the jump is shaped well.''

According to Nyman, the section wasn't built as well the year Macartney crashed.

''They just kind of put it in there and they had waves in it,'' Nyman said. ''It was bad.''

Like Nyman, Rearick didn't expect the jump to be an issue on race day, even if skiers will jump at a higher pace than during training.

''The finish jump is fine, is good. It's well done,'' Rearick said. ''For me, it's built in the right spot, at the right height.''

Course workers made tweaks to several potentially dangerous spots on the course following the first training on Tuesday, as Manuel Osborne-Paradis of Canada and Christof Innerhofer of Italy were thrown off-course.

The Italian was unhurt, but Osborne-Paradis withdrew, as he also crashed in a downhill in Wengen, Switzerland, last Sunday.

''It's tough to not race the `Super Bowl' of skiing but accidents happen and luckily it's only bruises,'' the Canadian said.

Another jump, at the so-called Mausefalle (mouse trap), was lowered after complaints from athletes' representative, Kjetil Jansrud.

''They took away just a little bit but it's good,'' the Norwegian said after his final training run Thursday. ''It's Kitzbuehel, and this is not a kids' race.''

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