Old boys club as Miller, Jamaica hit slopes

AFP| Last Updated: Feb 06, 2014, 20:41 PM IST

Sochi: American skier Bode Miller and Jamaican bobsleigh pilot Winston Watts, with a combined age of 82, surged into the Winter Olympics spotlight Thursday, 24 hours before the official start of the most expensive Games in history.

Miller, 36, began his campaign for a sixth Olympic medal by clocking the fastest time in the first men`s downhill training run in Rosa Khutor, high above the Olympics` Black Sea Sochi hub.

The colourful American was quickest in a time of 2min 07.75sec but warned much could still happen before Sunday`s medal race.

"It`s great to win the first training run (but) it really is going to be about who improves the most from here, who learns this course the best," he said.

Second fastest was Swiss sensation Patrick Kueng, just 0.03sec behind Miller`s time, followed by Austria`s medal hope Matthias Mayer.

Where Miller was smooth, the women`s downhillers suffered bumps and bruises before Austria`s Anna Fenninger topped the standings of their first downhill outing.

But that came only after a lengthy stoppage as organisers were forced to alter the configuration of the final jump.

The women got under way on schedule but only four runners had come down the 2.7km course when the International Ski Federation (FIS) decided to call a halt and hold the programme again.

Italy`s Daniela Merighetti suffered a heavy fall, and course workers were quickly on site to shave snow off the lip of the final jump.

"I was thrown five metres into the air. It`s not the length of the jump that causes the problem so much as the height, especially as it comes after a blind bend," said the Italian, who escaped serious injury but did not take part in the re-held session.

Fenninger timed 1:41.73 after the re-start, finishing 0.21sec ahead of Fraenzi Aufdenblatten of Switzerland, with American veteran Julia Mancuso, the 2010 Olympic downhill silver medallist, third quickest.

Jamaica`s Olympic bobsleigh team, destined to become the darlings of the Games, pleaded with their adoring fans to stop sending money to fund their Sochi rags-to-riches story.

Pilot Watts, 46, admitted that the Internet campaign to fund their trip had been such a success that he and brakeman Marvin Dixon feared they would be damned as greedy opportunists if they didn`t call a halt.

"The donations were just coming on and on. We had to stop them. We`ve called a press conference to do it," said Watts after almost $80,000 poured into the empty Jamaica coffers, with $178,000 gathered in total, including from sponsors and the national federation.

"We just didn`t want them to think that we`re greedy people."

The fast and furious men`s snowboarding slopestyle event made its Olympic debut on a course that has been widely condemned as too dangerous.

Reigning X-Games champion Maxence Parrot of Canada top-scored with 97.50 points although it was Britain`s Billy Morgan who had the honour of becoming the first competitor in action at the 2014 Olympics.

Later today, Russian figure skating legend Yevgeny Plushenko and Canadian world champion Patrick Chan will both be battling to get their nations off to a golden start in the team competition.

The inaugural 10-team event kicks off in the Iceberg Skating Palace with the men`s short programme. Canada, Russia and the United States are favourites with strong skaters in all four categories -- men, women, pairs and ice dancing.