Alpine races to open test events for 2018 Pyeongchang Games
Transport, accommodation, snow conditions, course preparation, and other logistics for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics are going to get their first big test this week.
A men's World Cup downhill and super-G are scheduled for the South Korean venue of Jeongseon next weekend - the first of 28 official test events for the next Winter Games.
The Alpine event was only confirmed last month following concern that a key gondola would not be completed in time.
Now the focus is more on organizational issues, like training inexperienced course crews to prepare vital safety netting and keep the snow smooth enough to avoid high-speed crashes.
''We are struggling to get the basics,'' International Ski Federation (FIS) technical expert Gunter Hujara said. ''People think it's about the gondola. It's everything.''
The first of three downhill training sessions is scheduled for Wednesday.
''I am curious how it is and what happens over there,'' said Italian downhiller Christof Innerhofer, the silver medalist at the 2014 Sochi Games. ''From what I've seen there is not much snow. I have watched pictures on Instagram.''
The Jeongseon venue contains only one competition run. So unlike at previous games, there will be only one course for both men's and women's speed events - with the women to have their test event next season.
''It's a competition venue. It's only designed for this,'' Hujara said. ''The original plan was to have men's and women's courses there but then came concerns from environmentalists and the FIS took it very seriously.''
The Olympic technical events of slalom and giant slalom will be held in Yongpyong, which has been the site of World Cup races before.
With only one speed course available, the FIS decided to alter its usual Olympic schedule, meaning that women will start with technical races before switching venues with the men.
''That's just disappointing, because I have to manage the schedule differently,'' said overall World Cup leader Lindsey Vonn, adding that the change may prompt her to skip the technical events altogether.
''I have to see if the GS is first or the slalom first and if there's enough time in between,'' Vonn said. ''It might be more beneficial to train and come in to Korea a week later. I don't know. But that's going to play a fairly big tactical role.''
Vonn, the 2010 Olympic downhill champion, hiked the Jeongseon course during a visit last year.
''I know the area now. I kind of know what to expect and that's an advantage,'' said Vonn, who missed the Sochi Games with an injured right knee. ''I haven't skied on the hill but no one has.''
Downhill World Cup leader Aksel Lund Svindal will miss the test after a season-ending right knee injury in Kitzbuehel, Austria, last month. Also absent is defending downhill gold medalist Matthias Mayer, who broke two vertebrae in a crash in December.
While not a downhiller, overall World Cup leader Marcel Hirscher is expected to attend the test for the super-G - with the trip fitting in nicely on his way to technical races in Yuzawa Naeba, Japan, the following weekend.
Associated Press writer Eric Willemsen in Kitzbuehel, Austria, contributed.
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