New Zealand skier Alice Robinson has completed two World Cup training downhill runs at Cortina d'Ampezzo in Italy to raise hopes the 20-year-old could crack the podium for the first time in Sunday night's final World Cup Super G before the Winter Olympics.
Robinson and her team have decided not to compete in tonight's World Cup downhill in Cortina, instead focusing on Super G and Giant Slalom preparation with a GS in Kronplatz in Italy to come two days after tomorrow night's Super G.
The Super G races are held on the same hill as the World Cup downhill and Sunday night's race will mark the first time in 10 World Cup starts in the discipline that Robinson has been able to complete World Cup downhill training runs on the same slope she will race on in Super G.
With just two Europa Cup races in the blue riband downhill 10 days ago in France, where she finished second twice, Robinson is a rookie in the ultimate speed test. But she impressed co-coach Chris Knight in her two World Cup training runs in Cortina, finishing 44th and 36th over the past two days. Significantly she improved her time from 4.01 seconds slower than the fastest time set by Italian World Cup champion Sofia Goggia in the first run to just 2.63 seconds slower in the second run.
With the Olympic downhill in Beijing happening on February 15 after the Giant Slalom on the 7th and the Super G on the 11th, Robinson is certain to add the discipline to her Beijing programme, and Knight is thrilled with the rapid progression she's made in such a short time on downhill skis.
"Very impressive, because it's a big step up from what we were doing 10 days ago in France, Europa Cup to World Cup and Cortina is a really fast track and speeds are high in most of the turns. It's just something else Alice has still to learn," Knight told the Herald.
"The learning curve was fast, high and quite exciting and our objective was to get experience on the hill before the Super G race on Sunday. We've stuck with that plan. We're going to train tomorrow and not race the downhill so she's better prepared for the Super G on Sunday."
It was a temptation for Robinson to compete in her first World Cup downhill race but Knight felt she better to target the disciplines she can realistically chase the podium in this week, and at the Olympics.
"We definitely talked about it but there are 15 girls who have probably skied a hundred runs each down this slope who are very good with the timing, the line and skiing fast here. For Alice to pop in a really good performance we would be hoping for a 15th to 20th place and if we look at the big picture, she has a podium chance in the Super G and Tuesday's Giant Slalom. So that's where we have to put our emphasis."
Robinson recorded a career best fourth in a World Cup Super G race in St Moritz in December prior to contracting Covid-19 which forced her to miss the following week's race in France and two Giant Slaloms in France. Despite being fast and on the pace, on her return she failed to finish her next two GS races before excelling in the fifth World Cup Super G race of the season in Zauchensee in Austria last week, finishing seventh.
It's that form that has Knight confidently backing Robinson to challenge for a podium in Cortina and at the Olympics.
"St Moritz was an incredible effort for her second time on the hill. At Cortina the Super G will be set pretty similar to downhill. It will be quite an advantage for her to have been on the hill the last two days before we get the Super G going.
"It's really exciting seeing her develop in Super G and there's a big future in downhill as well. That is just so exciting to see."
After tomorrow night's race Robinson will head to Kronplatz in Italy for her final World Cup Giant Slalom on Tuesday night before the Olympics. Having started the season with hopes of winning the overall GS World Cup title, the results haven't come with an 11th in the season opener in Solden her best.
But Robinson's been quick and Knight is adamant it won't impact her chances of challenging for a podium in Beijing.
"The advantage we will have in China is that we're all in a bubble training together before the race so we'll get plenty of opportunities to see where she's at in relation to the other top girls with training times. It has been a tough time with GS the whole season but Alice has been skiing great. She's fast and competitive and it's really unfortunate that the results don't show yet.
"We are confident in her skiing. It's just a matter of Alice finding that confidence as well from training times and a good result on Tuesday."