Olympics: Ski course setter defends tigerish super-G

Austrian ski course setter Florian Winkler insisted Saturday that his Olympic women's super-G layout was not as fierce as it looked despite a helter-skelter race that saw many skiers crash out.

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

Out of the 49 starters in the race won by Austrian pin-up Anna Fenninger, an incredible18 failed to finish the course set by Winkler, who is a coach for the Austrian team.

Germany's Maria Hoefl-Riesch won silver while Fenninger's teammate Nicole Hosp was third as the likes of Swiss skier Lara Gut and Slovenia's Tina Maze missed out on the podium.

But Winkler, who admitted he had designed a challenging course, said it "looked fiercer than it was".

"It was our goal for the course. Still fair, but you have to think a bit more. I was surprised by the number of girls who skied out, it was a day of mistakes for many."

"I think the best handled it really well, they showed how it's done" he added, though he admitted he was concerned after seeing six racers in a row ski out at the start.

"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 said.

Winkler denied he had set the course with the Austrians in mind.

"Actually, not. It's a fair course. You have to ski technically. We watched the first skiers make some mistakes and sent the information through."

Race winner Fenninger dismissed any notion of favouritism towards the Austrians.

"It makes for a great story. But it's the same for everyone," she said. "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 medallist Hosp also defended her coach, saying there was "no accidental winner, it was those who skied well and raced tactically".

Other athletes said the snow conditions, more than the design of the course, 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 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."