Olympics: Austrian course setter rejects 'favouritism' claims

Austrian ski coach Florian Winkler insisted Saturday that his Olympic women's super-G layout which witnessed numerous dramatic crashes was not made to order for his compatriots.

Austrian sweetheart Anna Fenninger won the race with a time of 1min 25.52, while teammate Nicole Hosp -- already with a silver in the downhill -- was third.

Top contenders like Lara Gut of Switzerland and Slovenia's Tina Maze failed to make the podium, which saw Germany's Maria Hoefl-Riesch take silver.

In a chaotic start amid warm conditions in the mountains above Sochi, only US skier Leanne Smith stood at the finish after eight racers had left the starting gate.

In all, 18 out of 49 racers failed to finish the course set by Winkler, a coach for the Austrian women's speed team.

"I think it looked fiercer than it was. Many made tactical mistakes," said Winkler, hitting back at any hint of favouritism

"I think the best handled it really well, they showed how it's done.

"But of course you start getting a bit worried," he admitted after seeing six racers in a row ski out.

"I was a little happy because I knew the (Austrian) girls weren't racing first, they could still look at the course (on TV). They did so and skied tactically.... and it worked."

He insisted the results came down to the athletes' performance and form.

"It's all overrated. You can adapt it a little, you can think about it, but the girls have been very strong in super-G this season," he added.

"We have the strongest super-G team at the moment, and today they brought the right mix right into the finish."

Asked whether she may have had an advantage, race winner Fenninger replied: "It makes for a great story. But it's the same for everyone."

"Of course, we train the type of courses he sets every once in a while. So unconsciously, maybe it's an advantage but consciously it isn't."

- No accidental winner -

Bronze medal winner Hosp also defended her coach and compatriot.

"I was really happy when I heard that Florian was setting the course because he always sets really cool super-Gs," she said.

"It was a real challenge today. There was no accidental winner, it was those who skied well and raced tactically."

Other athletes said the snow conditions, more than the course-setting, were responsible for so many skiers failing to finish.

"It was tricky. A lot of girls thought it was easy but it wasn't so easy because the snow was changing," said France's Marie Marchand-Arvier, who was one of the first to ski out.

"A lot of girls were having trouble," Canada's Marie-Michele Gagnon agreed. But with the help of radioed information from their coaches, "you could see they were adjusting the line and adjusting their attitude".

"All you have to do is problem-solve in a situation like this," said Smith, who was in the lead for a long time despite a major mistake, having been the only racer to make it down to the finish.

"You can watch me go down, make my mistake, be the guinea pig and adjust from there. That's what the teams were doing. I'm sure there was a lot of radio chatter."

On Friday, Croatia's Ivica Kostelic had already swatted away suggestions that a course set by his father Ivica had helped him to a fourth Olympic silver.

For Olympic downhill champion Dominique Gisin, who also failed to finish on Saturday, Fenninger's win was more than deserved and had nothing to do with a specially set course.

"I don't think it's possible (to favour an athlete)," she said.

"Anna is a truly overall skier, she has beautiful technique... it didn't matter what course was put on."