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WHISTLER, British Columbia -- Lindsey Vonn was the headliner Wednesday, with Julia Mancuso running a close second, in the women's downhill.
But the course itself, Franz's Downhill at Whistler Creekside, made its presence felt with authority, as the last jump before the finish proved treacherous.
Many skiers said they were struggling against the dangerous combination of bumpy snow, bright sun, sudden shade and fatigue, which stemmed from the demands of the course and the lack of training runs during the week due to the bad weather.
Dominique Gisin of Switzerland went into the finish jump and crashed horribly along the left side of the course. Two skiers later, Italian Daniela Merighetti did the same, her face bloodied in the fall.
One of the more frightful crashes involved Sweden's Anja Paerson, who stormed out of the gate, rushed past Mancuso's time and attacked the course frenetically. Appearing to be headed toward a silver medal, Paerson thundered to the final jump, perhaps seeing the podium, and sailed high and out of control before hitting a gate on her way down, landing on her skis and then on her back.
"You have to be on time," said Nadja Kamer of Switzerland. "You cannot be late or have too much weight on your skis coming out of that last gate, or you'll fly 60 meters in the air like Anja did."
"This is what we signed up for. We're stupid. We're crazy. It's part of the package," said Emily Brydon of Canada. "The snow was so bumpy that by the end your legs have worked so many times more than they normally would. We were crowd-pleasers. I told Anja today that she combined two sports. She did some ski racing and some ski jumping.
"I think the finish is amazing," she added. "I think one of the reasons you're seeing so much carnage is just because you're so exhausted near the end. It's a long course for women with difficult conditions, and that creates a higher level of fatigue."
Stacey Cook of the United States was the fourth skier down the course, and in her mind, she was at a disadvantage.
"I think going earlier was harder because there was more shade. One part of the course, the Frog Bank, had more sun. Course conditions were tough, but it's awesome," Cook said. "With Anja, though, I think she just compressed going into the course. It was a technical error that was the cause, instead of the course itself. This course is built only for the top players."
American Alice McKennis had a tough run herself, struggling out of the gate and veering off the course. She said she regrouped and finished just to take a crack at the final jump.
"It's big, very big," she said. "It was so challenging because it is so bright and then suddenly it goes dark."