The Alpine skiing men’s downhill event holds the distinction as the sport’s fastest and most dangerous discipline. With its swooping blind turns, heavy compressions and high-speed jumps, the downhill is an all-out brawl against the laws of physics in the name of speed. But just how fast will the athletes be travelling as they race for the gold medal at the 2022 Winter Games? The short answer: potentially historically fast.
How fast do downhill skiers typically go?
Most World Cup-level downhill races demand average speeds between 60 and 70 miles per hour, with top speeds escalating into the range of 75-95 mph. At the Olympics, that pace has traditionally been more on the subdued side. Each of the past three Olympics men’s downhills have been won with average speeds in the mid-to-low 60's.
The 2006 Torino downhill holds the title of the fastest Olympic race to-date, when Antoine Deneriaz of France took gold with an average speed of 67.8 mph.
How fast is the 2022 Olympic downhill course?
The Yanqing Alpine Skiing Center downhill course, nicknamed “The Rock,” is still largely a mystery. The fully-manmade piste was built specifically for the 2022 Winter Games and has never before hosted international competition. As the world’s top downhillers familiarized themselves with the course during official training sessions on Thursday and Friday, we got an early sense of the speed skiers will have to carry through their competition runs in order to get themselves on the podium.
The numbers so far have been eyebrow-raising.
Norway’s Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, the top-ranked downhill skier in the world, set the pace Friday with a time of 1:43.72. His average speed during the run? 68.0 mph... 0.2 mph quicker than Deneriaz’s Olympic-best mark from 2006.
As for the highest top speed, Austria’s Johannes Strolz – despite finishing the training session with a time outside the top 20 – was clocked at a blistering 86.5 mph at the third speed trap near the midway point on the course.
Of course, those speeds would have to hold up during Sunday’s competition runs to officially put "The Rock" in the Olympic record books. That’s no guarantee, especially with the constant threat of heavy winds capable of altering the texture and timing of the race. But Friday’s training session proved that the artificial snow surface sprinkled through the arid Yanqing hills is capable of potentially historic speed under the right conditions.
The men’s downhill event – the first of 11 Alpine skiing medal events at the 2022 Games – gets underway at 10 p.m. ET on Saturday night, airing as part of NBC’s Primetime Coverage. The event will also be available to stream on NBCOlympics.com and Peacock. Click here for full broadcast and streaming info of Alpine skiing at the 2022 Winter Olympics.