(Reuters) – Frenchman Adrien Theaux, still mourning the death of team mate David Poisson in a training crash, posted the fastest time in final practice on Friday for the opening men’s alpine World Cup downhill at Lake Louise.
After warm weather and poor snow conditions wiped out training on Wednesday and Thursday, skiers finally got a chance to test a soft Lake Louise track ahead of Saturday’s race and no one could catch Theaux, who clocked a time of one minute, 51.54 seconds.
Olympic champion Matthias Mayer of Austria was the only other skier to dip under 1:52.00 crossing in 1:51.89 followed by Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud, downhill bronze medalist at the Sochi Winter Games.
The excitement that usually accompanies the first downhill of the season has been muted this year after Poisson died following a training run accident on Nov. 13 at nearby Nakiska, the alpine skiing venue for the 1988 Calgary Olympics.
Lake Louise organizers are planning several tributes to the French skier over the weekend.
Racers will wear bibs featuring a black ribbon while the French and International Ski Federation (FIS) have requested there be recognition of Poisson in the finish area corral and on the leaderboard.
With only one training run, the top leaderboard on Friday contained many of the names that are expected to challenge for podium spots in both Saturday’s downhill and Sunday’s Super G.
Canadian Eric Guay, the reigning Super G world champion and downhill silver medalist, recorded the day’s fifth best effort just ahead of Italy’s Peter Fill, the World Cup overall downhill champion.
Swiss world champion Beat Feuz was eighth fastest followed by Austria’s Hannes Reichelt in ninth.
With the battle for coveted Olympic spots about to get underway, Austria dominated the session placing four skiers in the top nine with Romed Baumann and Max Franz joining Reichelt and Mayer with the fourth and seventh best times respectively.
Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis