Kilde tops wind-swept second Olympic downhill training
Norway's Aleksander Aamodt Kilde underlined his tag as favourite for the men's Olympic downhill by topping the second wind-swept training session on Friday.
Kilde clocked 1min 43.72sec down the 3.2km-long "Rock" course in blustery conditions in Yanqing that saw the start delayed by one hour.
"It's always good to have a second run, it makes it easier to navigate," Kilde of the man-made piste of artificial snow that racers tried out for the first time on Thursday.
World Cup races scheduled to be held on the course in 2020 and 2021 were cancelled because of Covid-19 restrictions in China, meaning a truly testing experience for racers.
"I definitely have some work to do on top, but the rest is really nice," Kilde said. "I felt good skiing, I had a good flow and I was lucky with the wind."
There is more strong wind forecast for Saturday, casting a shadow over whether a third training session scheduled ahead of the medal race proper 24 hours later will go ahead.
Kilde, whose girlfriend Mikaela Shiffrin could win several medals at this Olympics, acknowledged that the wind could play a massive factor in the outcome of his battle for gold in the blue riband event of alpine skiing.
"Anything can happen, especially when you have weather like this," the 29-year-old said.
"It's never easy to win the gold medal, but everything is possible though, so I'll do my best and ski as I did today and maybe a little faster and see how it goes."
Kilde is locked head-to-head on the World Cup circuit with Switzerland's Marco Odermatt, and the Norwegian did not play down the friendly rivalry.
"He's going to be here," he said of Odermatt. "He's an amazing skier. It's going to be a battle the whole of the Olympics and the rest of the season."
Odermatt, who leads the World Cup overall standings, was quick to earmark Kilde as the odds-on favourite.
"We are good friends, for sure good rivals. We both like each other and we like the little battle we have on the circuit," the Swiss racer said.
"But the Olympics are a little bit different and he's definitely the bigger favourite for the downhill than me."
Turning to the blustery conditions that caused temperatures with wind chill plummet to minus 36 degrees Celsius (minus 32.8 degrees Fahrenheit), Odermatt was sanguine.
"You can discuss the wind for the next 10 days, I guess. It probably won't be the fairest race we've had. but it's the Olympics and that's how it is," he said.
"If you have luck on your side and a good run you can win the medal.... but first I have to find two or three seconds and that won't be easy."
Matthias Mayer, seeking a third Olympic gold after winning the downhill in the 2014 Olympics and super-G in Pyeongchang four years later, will lead the Austrian charge alongside reigning double world speed champion Vincent Kriechmayr.
"It was definitely really good, after yesterday which was more of an inspection," he said, also naming Kilde as the "big favourite".
"It's very close training and it's going to be exciting on Sunday.
"The wind is very important factor and I hope on Sunday that the wind is with me! but I think everyone hopes that!"
Kriechmayr said he was confident, before adding: "The whole season they guys are pushing at 100 percent and you have to show your best to reach a medal."