Alpine skiing is one of the most iconic events of the Winter Olympics. Downhill is the most physically demanding and dangerous division of the sport, as the racers typically exceed 80 mph as they barrel down the slope.
The course itself is designed to be difficult. With sharp turns, dips and small jumps, the athletes must push themselves to the limit as they race the clock. Though they are measured by time, the greatest opponent is nature itself. The course can prove to be their greatest ally or enemy.
The women's downhill event promises to continue the legacy alpine skiing has built as one of the most exhilarating and captivating sports at the Winter Games.
The women's downhill medal round will be held in the middle of the night for those watching stateside, but it is well worth setting the alarm for and putting on a pot of coffee to enjoy.
Women's Downhill Viewing Info
Date: Feb. 12
Time: 2 a.m. ET
TV: Click here for TV listings.
Live stream: Available on the NBC Olympics website.
When it was announced in January that defending downhill gold medalist Lindsey Vonn would be forced to sit out the Sochi Games after a series of devastating knee injuries, the dynamic of the event changed completely. With Team USA's top medal contender in the event on the sidelines, the doors opened up for several other athletes to step into the spotlight.
Last week, Julia Mancuso affirmed her status as Team USA's brightest hope for a medal on the slopes with an impressive series of training runs. Her mastery of the downhill course extended into the super combined, where she earned her fourth Olympic medal in alpine skiing.
"I really thought I was blowing it in slalom," Mancuso told ESPN. "I had a great downhill run and knew there was nothing to lose."
The stage is set for a thrilling showdown on the downhill course between Team USA and the always-dominant teams from Austria and Germany.
How will Team USA fare without Lindsey Vonn?
Lindsey Vonn has become a household name thanks to her success on the slopes and her high-profile relationship with golf superstar Tiger Woods. Though injury-plagued, Vonn had been a favorite to repeat her Vancouver gold at Sochi. Without her, Team USA's chances of dominating the downhill course did diminish, but the team appears to be well-prepared.
Is this Germany's year to shine?
Always a leader in the medal standings in alpine skiing, Germany may have a breakthrough star in three-time gold medalist Maria Hoefl-Riesch. With a dominant performance in the super combined, the 29-year-old added to her pair of gold medals from Vancouver. She has yet to medal in the downhill at the Winter Games, but may be a threat in all divisions.
After spending the Vancouver Games in the shadow of her teammate Lindsey Vonn, Mancuso is ready to have the spotlight all to herself. The four-time medalist earned a gold medal at Turin in 2006 on the giant slalom and took home a pair of silver medals in Vancouver in the super combined and the downhill. She appears to be in near-top form right now and is poised to add another medal to her growing collection.
Representing Germany, Hoefl-Riesch is a force to be reckoned with on the slopes. She defended her title in the super combined at the Sochi Games and will try to extend that dominance to the downhill course. Though her downhill run from the super combined was not spectacular (she had to settle for fifth), she is too good overall right now to overlook.
In the downhill portion of the super combined at the Sochi Games, the 22-year-old made it very clear that she came to Russia to be a medal contender. After injury forced her to miss the Vancouver Games, her sights set immediately to Sochi. She has been a major player on the World Cup circuit since she was only 15 years old, and her speed and precision make her one to watch.
Though her career has had more setbacks than successes, the 26-year-old New Hampshire native will try to improve off of an average Olympic debut in Vancouver in 2010. With her injuries behind her, she appears to have improved and has been holding her own against top international competition. With a clean, sharp trip, she could be a surprise contender.
The Slovenian skier is one of the more well-rounded competitors and is a medal contender in any event. After a pair of silver medals in Vancouver in the super-G and the giant slalom, she has come to Sochi in competitive form. With a strong showing in the downhill portion of the super combined, she appears poised to be a major threat.
Alpine skiing is one of the most compelling and heart-pounding Olympic sports. With such a deep, talented field of competitors, the women's downhill skiing at the Sochi Games should be one for the record books.
Here are our medal predictions:
- Gold—Julia Mancuso (USA)
- Silver—Tina Maze (Slovenia)
- Bronze—Maria Hoefl-Riesch (Germany)