Super-G course ‘looked fiercer than it was’

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After eight of the first 11 skiers and 18 of 49 total skied off course while two of his own athletes landed on the podium, Austrian speed coach Florian Winkler was forced to defend his course-setting for the women’s super-G after the race Saturday at the Sochi Winter Olympics.

The high attrition rate, coupled with the race being won by 24-year-old Austrian Anna Fenninger with Germany’s Maria Hoefl-Riesch taking silver and another Austrian, Nicole Hosp, securing bronze, had some questioning whether the course was set to favor Austrian skiers.

Winkler denied the allegations.

“It’s a fair course,” Winkler told AFP. “It looked fiercer than it was.”

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Course setters at the Olympics are determined by weighted lottery with each nation getting as many Ping-Pong balls as they have skiers in the Top 15 in the world.

Winkler, who won the super-G lottery, said that his goal was to shape a layout that would challenge skiers by forcing them to blend all-out speed skiing with a cerebral approach to linking the sections together. The number of athletes unable to do that came as a shock, particularly after watching six skiers in a row ski out at the start.

“It was our goal for the course,” Winkler told AFP. “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.”

Winkler added that if the Austrians had any advantage it was in that as high-ranked super-G performers on the World Cup, they drew later starting bibs and benefited from course reports.

This isn’t the first time that the Austrian coaches have been accused of bias when setting courses at the Games.

RELATED: Anna Fenninger attacks course for SG gold

For years ago, American Lindsey Vonn went into the Vancouver Olympics as the World Cup leader in the super-G standings and as a heavy gold medal favorite. But the American star could manage just a bronze while unheralded Austrian, Andrea Fischbacher, was the surprise gold medalist.

After the competition, Vonn’s then-husband/coach Thomas Vonn, who finished ninth in the men’s super-G at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, accused Austrian coach Juergen Kriechbaum, who set the gates, of “Lindsey-proofing” the course. Kriechbaum, of course, vehemently denied the charge.

“You don’t make a course against one person,” he told AP at the time. “This is stupid. She’s good, but not so good that anyone would set it just to stop her.”

Fenninger brushed off any notion that she benefited from favoritism.

“It makes for a great story, but it’s the same for everyone,” she said.

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Hosp, who won her second medal of the Games, added that there was “no accidental winner,” and that the podium was occupied by the women, “skied well and raced tactically.”

Olympic downhill gold medalist Dominique Gisin of Switzerland, one of the 18 who did not finish the super-G, echoed those sentiments.

“I don’t think it’s possible (to favor an athlete),” she said to AFP. “Anna is a truly overall skier, she has beautiful technique. It didn’t matter what course she was put on.”

2020 French Open women’s singles draw, results

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If Serena Williams is to win a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title at the French Open, she may have to go through her older sister in the fourth round.

Williams, the sixth seed, could play Venus Williams in the round of 16 at Roland Garros, which begins Sunday.

Serena opens against countrywoman Kristie Ahn, whom she beat in the first round at the U.S. Open. Serena could then get her U.S. Open quarterfinal opponent, fellow mom Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria, in the second round.

If Venus is to reach the fourth round, she must potentially get past U.S. Open runner-up Victoria Azarenka in the second round. Azarenka beat Serena in the U.S. Open semifinals, ending the American’s latest bid to tie Margaret Court‘s major titles record.

Venus lost in the French Open first round the last two years.

The French Open top seed is 2018 champion Simona Halep, who could play 2019 semifinalist Amanda Anisimova in the third round.

Coco Gauff, the rising 16-year-old American, gets 2019 semifinalist Jo Konta of Great Britain in the first round in the same quarter of the draw as Halep.

The field lacks defending champion Ash Barty of Australia, not traveling due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Also out: U.S. Open winner Naomi Osaka, citing a sore hamstring and tight turnaround from prevailing in New York two weeks ago.

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2020 French Open men’s singles draw, results

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Rafael Nadal was put into the same half of the French Open draw as fellow 2018 and 2019 finalist Dominic Thiem of Austria, with top-ranked Novak Djokovic catching a break.

Nadal, trying to tie Roger Federer‘s male record 20 Grand Slam singles titles, could play sixth-seeded German Alexander Zverev in the quarterfinals before a potential clash with Thiem, who just won the U.S. Open.

Djokovic, who is undefeated in 2020 save being defaulted out of the U.S. Open, could play No. 7 seed Matteo Berrettini of Italy in the quarterfinals before a possible semifinal with Russian Daniil Medvedev.

Medvedev is the fourth seed but is 0-3 at the French Open. Another possible Djokovic semifinal opponent is fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, who reached the fourth round last year.

The most anticipated first-round matchup is between three-time major champion Andy Murray and 2015 French Open champion Stan Wawrinka. In Murray’s most recent French Open match, he lost in five sets to Wawrinka in the 2017 semifinals.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

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