It’s fast, steep and very tricky. And when Australia’s Paralympic alpine skiers tackle the downhill course on Sochi’s much-maligned snow, they will only have one shot to get it perfect.
The downhill kicks off proceedings at the winter Games on Saturday and is the first of five alpine events the Australians will contest at Rosa Khutor Alpine Centre.
For top medal contenders Mitchell Gourley, Toby Kane and Melissa Perrine, the focus will be smashing a single run down the two-kilometre course that has a vertical drop of more than 600 metres.
But after two practice races with mixed results, they know it won’t be straightforward.
“Anytime you make it to the finish in a downhill is a good day,” said one-legged skier Toby Kane.
Kane had a smooth run in Thursday’s training session, but the 27-year-old’s time betrayed the apprehension that comes from having crashed on a difficult turn the day before.
That was worsened by the thought of teammate Cameron Rahles-Rahbula’s heavy fall.
Rahles-Rahbula, who also competes on one ski, sustained injuries to his right knee and ankle and fractured his tibia when he crashed minutes before Kane went down on the same section.
The 30-year-old veteran, who was set to contest his fourth and final Games, was forced to withdraw from the downhill and is in significant doubt for his other four events.
“It just makes it that bit harder to stand up the top, and want to throw yourself into it,” said Kane, who has raced and trained with Rahles-Rahbula for 10 years.
Having won his first IPC World Cup gold medal in the men’s standing super-combined at last week’s finals in Tarvisio, Italy, Kane should be motoring on confidence.
“But the conditions in Tarvisio were stable, so each run you could focus on these tiny little things that you were doing to perfect,” he said.
“This is the complete opposite. You could ski a terrific run today, and that doesn’t necessarily mean much for tomorrow.”
The squad’s third male standing skier Mitchell Gourley has been battling his own demons.
In last March’s test event, the giant slalom world No.1 fell on a complex jump directly after a turn.
“I had a pretty massive crash here last year, so I’m working through my own stuff with that and trying to figure out how to get past that and attack that section of the course,” the 22-year-old Gourley said.
Australia’s only female in the event, vision-impaired Melissa Perrine, said she was working with her guide Andrew Bor on attacking some sections harder.
“That’s going to be the goal tomorrow, trying to piece together the good parts of both our runs so far and put them into one solid run.”
Athletes of all disability categories will compete in the same race, but the level and type of impairment is factored into their time.
The race clock will tick over more slowly for athletes with more severe impairments.
Competition begins at 10am (1700 AEDT) on Saturday, after the Australian team march in Friday night’s opening ceremony wearing black armbands for late teammate Matt Robinson.