The moon is pictured beside a flag showing the logo of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic and the 2022 Beijing Winter Paralympic Games in Beijing, China January 12, 2022. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch
January 13, 2022
By Steve Keating
(Reuters) – Bernhard Russi has designed every Olympic downhill course except one since the 1988 Calgary Games and the Swiss rates his Beijing layout as “surprisingly good”.
Skiers will have to take Russi’s word on this since none of them have skied the Yangqing course, or even seen it, with the COVID-19 pandemic having wiped out the usual test events.
Ever since Beijing was awarded the 2022 Winter Olympics there has been concern and speculation over the quality of the track that would be used for the Games’ blue riband event.
Russi is to the ski world what famed course designers Pete Dye and Old Tom Morris were to golf.
He has spent seven years pushing boulders and moving dirt sculpturing a mountainside into a world class downhill course that will provide a test worthy of the discipline’s best and delivers a visual thrill ride for millions of viewers.
“I would say it is surprisingly good, good in the sense it is going to be challenging,” Russi told Reuters. “It is going to be a much steeper downhill than everybody was thinking.
“Everybody thought Beijing is flat and Beijing has no mountains and that’s not true. It has really everything.
“It has steep parts, long turns, quick turns, it has some speed sections and for me personally I like that we have three, four real big, big jumps.
“According to the terrain, according to the mountain, according to the work we have done this could be a very good downhill, a very demanding downhill.”
It could also be the fairest downhill run at any Olympics, with skiers knowledge of the course limited to word of mouth and some drone footage.
The layout is steep and with the expected icy conditions will not be for the faint hearted.
However, the impact of the COVID-19 restrictions have resulted in a level playing field according to twice Olympian Ken Read, once a member of the Crazy Canucks – a group of Canadian skiers famed for their daredevil style of racing.
“That’s what is going to make it the great equaliser,” Read, vice chair of the FIS Alpine executive board and former head of Alpine Canada, told Reuters.
“Nobody is going to have a leg up in training, nobody is going to have had previous experience, everybody is going to come in fresh.
“They’ll have two training runs and then a race.
“I would say it will be the fairest ever. You have the best-of-best and they can adapt to whatever they are looking at very quickly.”
The 73-year-old architect Russi said he did not like to compare courses, insisting they all have their own personalities and characteristics.
But pressed he said Beijing reminded him of the Birds of Prey layout at Beaver Creek in Colorado – one of the World Cup circuit’s most demanding tracks.
When designing a course Russi’s philosophy is to construct one that will test the best skiers by putting a premium on jumps, technique and bravery — not gliding.
“If I could I’d like to design a course for the best skier in the world,” said Russi, whose work has been featured at every Olympics after 1998 with the exception of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, which used the already approved World Cup track in Whistler. “What is the best skier in the world?
“The best skier in the world as a downhiller I would say is one who is very talented in the jumps, very talented in turns and (has) enough potential in the gliding part and not vice-versa.
“Normally I don’t like to compare a downhill from the others because I think every mountain has the right to be it’s own without being compared,” he added.
“But if I count the big jumps, the steep parts and also the gliding part, than I could compare it with Beaver Creek.”
Winner of the downhill gold at the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics, Russi asks only one thing from the downhillers heading to Beijing – that they approach his design with an open mind.
“If I can give advice to anybody I would say don’t think too much,” said Russi. “Go there with an open mind be positive.
“It is going to be a good downhill, a very good downhill, a challenging downhill.
“Enjoy and eat as much Chinese food as possible.”
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Ken Ferris)