Bryce Bennett skies during a men's downhill training session ahead of the Winter Olympic Games Beijing 2022 on Feb. 3, 2022 in Yanqing, China.
BEIJING — The downhill course at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 looks like a fire-breathing dragon — steep and technical at the top with cliff-walled chute at the end that looks like the course’s tongue.
But in their first look at the course, the three American downhillers loved it.
“It’s really fun to ski,” said Ryan Cochran-Siegle, who finished the first men’s training run in seventh place (excluding skiers who missed gates).
“I was pretty comfortable all the way down, to be honest,” added Bryce Bennett, who clocked the sixth fastest training run just ahead of Cochran-Siegle. Bennett won his first world cup downhill earlier this season and grew up skiing on the legendary steeps of Palisades Tahoe (formerly called Squaw Valley, host of the 1960 Olympic Winter Games).
And Bennett noted, “There’s a lot more speed left.”
The Downhill Course
The downhill at the Yanqing National Alpine Skiing Centre has left most who see it in person “blown away.” Pictures and video tend to flatten out the venue.
Designed by 1976 Olympic gold medalist Bernhard Russi, who has designed every Olympic downhill course except one in the past 34 years, the men’s downhill course starts at the summit of a 7,149-foot peak in China’s Xiaohaituo Mountains northwest of Beijing. This morning, the view from the start stretched to the towers in downtown Beijing, over two hours away by car.
From the summit, the course swoops almost two miles, first down a ridge, then it plunges over the mountainside and into the cliff-lined ravine. By the finish, skiers have dropped almost three thousand feet and reached speeds close to 90 mph.
To the uninitiated, it looks intimidating. And because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world’s best alpine skiers had never skied the course until this morning.
Travis Ganong, 33, a veteran American downhiller, was the first of the American team to go. He ran sixth in the start order, and the skiers in front of him were missing gates in this, the first training run.
“I just got a feeling for it more or less,” said Ganong, who took it easy and ended up over two seconds off the leaders. “Normally, we race on the same tracks at the same venues, and every year, and we always go back to the same venues. You build your way up to the point where you feel comfortable racing. We have to do that now in three days.”
Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Olympic Games Beijing 2022? Visit TeamUSA.org/Beijing-2022-Olympic-Games to view the competition schedule, medal table and results.