SOCHI, Russia (AP) — No one knows Olympic ski courses better than Bernhard Russi, and he likes the ones in the mountains above Sochi.
Alpine skiing's master architect has been creating and adapting the Russian slopes since 2006. His latest work will begin to be revealed in the marquee men's downhill race scheduled on Sunday.
"I'm very happy," Russi, who won downhill gold for Switzerland at the 1972 Sapporo Olympics, told The Associated Press in a recent interview. "It's well balanced in terms of difficulties and in terms of features."
It is also something of a mystery.
The men's and women's courses at the Rosa Khutor resort have each hosted one World Cup meet, totaling only three races on back-to-back weekends in February 2012.
The men's speed course, though modified slightly after the test races, gave up enough secrets to allow comparison with a more familiar stop on the season-long circuit.
"It's a little bit like Beaver Creek," said Russi, who also designed the downhill track in Colorado known as Birds of Prey. "Longer, more space, with these two big jumps at the end."
United States men's head coach Sasha Rearick described the Sochi Olympic course as "a great modern downhill, much like Beaver Creek."
"It's got every component," Rearick told the AP. "It's got huge jumps, it's got glide sections, it's got high-speed turns."
The U.S. team has reason to like the comparison: Bode Miller has twice won the Birds of Prey downhill and Ted Ligety has won his home World Cup giant slalom four times.
Miller also placed fourth in the World Cup downhill in Sochi two years ago, finishing 0.61 seconds behind winner Beat Feuz of Switzerland.
Feuz covered that 3.5-kilometer (2.17-mile) long course in 2 minutes, 14.10 seconds — longer than all on the World Cup circuit except the classic course in Wengen, Switzerland.
It was also icy enough that weekend to injure Feuz, Miller and Ivica Kostelic, the following day's super-combined winner.
"That was over the top and it was also dangerous once the ice broke," Rearick recalled. "If they do a good job of watering the hill and grooming it in, I think it's going to be good."
Potential downhill favorite Aksel Lund Svindal, who was 13th behind Feuz, is no fan of the ice but said the men's course must withstand more than two weeks of training and racing.
"They need a hard surface or we could have the issue where it's a start-number race and no one wants that for the Olympics," said the big Norwegian, whose three medals at the 2010 Vancouver Games included downhill silver.