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Gisin earns place on Swiss downhill team by winning Olympic training session

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia - Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany skipped the third women's Olympic downhill training run. So, too, did Tina Maze of Slovenia and Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein.

With starting spots already secured, they had that luxury on Saturday.

Dominique Gisin did not. Nor did her Swiss teammate Nadja Jnglin-Kamer.

For them, this was a race day, because only one position on the four-person Swiss downhill team was still available. The Americans were in a similar situation, using the training session to decide who skied in the women's race on Wednesday.

So there was plenty of pressure for a simple practice run.

Gisin breezed through the tight track and finished in one minute, 42.37 seconds to not only lead the session but secure her spot on the Swiss team. Jnglin-Kamer went all out, too, only to crash near the finish line. She gingerly got up and brushed herself off, skiing the rest of the run while holding her left hand. She broke into tears in the finish area.

Barring injury, she won't be taking the starting line for the downhill race. The other Swiss spots were grabbed by Lara Gut (she won a downhill in Beaver Creek, Colo., earlier this season), Fabienne Suter (she won Friday's training session) and Marianne Kaufmann-Abderhalden (by virtue of winning in Val d'Isere, France, in December).

"It was a lot of pressure, but for me it was good that I could handle the pressure and that gives me a lot of confidence," said Gisin, who held off Gut by 0.19 seconds on Saturday, with Kajsa Kling of Sweden finishing third, 0.25 behind. "Now I am looking to do maybe one easy training," session.

Marie-Michele Gagnon of Lac-Etchemin, Que., was 19th in 1:44.79. Larisa Yurkiw of Owen Sound, Ont., did not start. She had a mild ankle sprain in training on Friday, but it still expected to compete.

The Americans had had two spots up for grabs. Californians Julia Mancuso and Stacey Cook were already locks, leaving Laurenne Ross, newcomer Jacqueline Wiles of Portland and Leanne Smith all scurrying down the mountain for a chance to race on Wednesday when things really count.

Ross, of Bend, Ore., clinched her spot by finishing fifth in the race. Wiles wound up fourth, but she missed some gates up top. She was hardly discouraged, though.

"Still exciting to see my name up there," Wiles said.

Wait, there now could be more: Wiles was awarded the last of the four starting spots by the U.S. team on Saturday afternoon.

Smith had a feeling she was probably out of running after finishing 22nd, and was subdued after her performance.

"I've been working hard in training, and feeling good. But it's just not carrying over to downhill right at the moment," said Smith, who will start in the super-combined on Monday. "Hopefully it's something I can figure out real soon."

This has been quite a journey for Wiles, who's steadily progressed throughout the season, to the point where she made the Olympic downhill squad.

Surreal for sure, the 21-year-old conceded.

"It's way more than I ever thought," Wiles said. "I was planning on just doing a couple of World Cup races at the beginning of the year, dip my feet into the circuit a little bit. But I ended up doing well and they kept taking me and taking me (to races). Now, I'm here. It's just crazy."

Just to show how tough it was to make the Swiss team — all six of the skiers in contention are in the top 25 in the World Cup downhill standings. Only the Austrians have more depth.

"It is always tough for the countries with a lot of good athletes," Gisin explained. "It is the same for America in track and field, I think."

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