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WHISTLER, British Columbia (Reuters) - The courses for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics have gone down a treat with alpine skiers, who gave the new layouts rave reviews on Thursday.
Christoph Gruber led the praise following his winning super-G run down the Dave Murray Downhill course but the Austrian veteran was not alone in his approval of the upgraded Whistler Mountain courses.
"I have to say this is a spectacular course, it's very beautiful, a true Olympic course," Liechtenstein's Marco Buechel, a super-G winner in Kitzbuehel last month, told reporters.
"I would say whoever wins here at the Olympic Games will be the true champion.
"I can say nothing against this course. It has everything...it's just amazing to ski here. But it is very, very difficult."
A trip to the Vancouver was not always something racers looked forward to.
Until Thursday, the last World Cup race staged at Whistler was a men's super-G in 1995. The resort was later removed from the FIS calendar after poor weather forced the cancellation of races in 1996, 1997 and 1998.
The Vancouver Olympic Organising Committee (VANOC) spent $27.6 million upgrading the Whistler mountain courses and according to skiers, it was money wisely spent.
The courses have been transformed into some of the most technical and demanding on the World Cup circuit.
"I was talking to the guys and this is probably the toughest super-G in the world," said Canada's Erik Guay, who underlined his medal potential by finishing in a tie for fourth with Turin Olympic super-G champion Patrick Staudacher of Italy.
"The course is tough, the snow is tough, the setting is tough. There are not many flats on the way down so it's challenging."
He added: "It should be a lot of fun if it's sunny in 2010."
Austria's Hermann Maier, who knows a bit about super-G courses with 23 of his 53 World Cup victories coming in the discipline, also gave the Dave Murray layout top marks.
"It's a nice course, it should be very interesting," said Maier, the super-G gold medalist at the Nagano Olympics and a silver medalist in Turin. "I like this course."
The women who have staged two downhill training runs on Franz's Downhill course have been no less enthusiastic. On Friday get their opportunity to race for real in a downhill Olympic test event.
The men are back on Whistler mountain for a giant slalom on Saturday and the women wrap up their action on Sunday with a super-combined.
Editing by Martin Petty