The wind postpones the descent and changes the Alpine Olympic calendar

YANQING, China — Talks about the wind began Thursday, as soon as Austria’s Matthias Mayer completed the first practice run on the slope ...


YANQING, China — Talks about the wind began Thursday, as soon as Austria’s Matthias Mayer completed the first practice run on the slope dubbed “Rock.”

On Sunday, when the wind forced a day postponement of the men’s downhillthere was only one subject of discussion: there is a lot of wind on the Olympic slopes.

“It will always be windy,” said Bryce Bennett of the United States, who would have been the first rider down the mountain in the men’s downhill on Sunday. “That’s how this place is.”

Winds have been fairly consistent at the Yanqing National Alpine Ski Center, gusting to 15 miles per hour and above, especially in the middle of the descent. But four days after the first snow cover for the competitors on the Olympic course, the wind has already knocked out two official days of competition: the final training session on Saturday then, on Sunday, the downhill, the flagship event of alpine skiing. The race is now due to take place on Monday, between the rounds of the women’s giant slalom.

May be.

It is unclear whether the winds will ease on Monday, according to forecasts, in what is traditionally a season when the region that includes Beijing is prone to windstorms.

Wind can be a dangerous problem in alpine skiing, causing racers to tumble when flying over jumps and knocking skiers off their lines – and out of action – if hit by even a minor gust in the middle of their race. It can also disrupt schedules and has caused some skiers to wonder if a real race could ever take place here.

Bennett said he still hoped the downhill could be run “as fair as possible”. But if not, he says resignedly, “then it is what it is.”

Race organizers announced three hour-long delays on Sunday as they waited and hoped the wind would die down on a relatively calm and temperate day at both ends of the course, but windy on a long exposed middle stretch. The ski officials finally gave up, canceled the race and announced they would try again on Monday afternoon.

Beijing Olympics organizers did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the terms.

The postponement has set up a star-studded day of skiing – assuming the wind doesn’t prevent it from happening – which will see the men’s downhill slip between the first and second runs of the women’s giant slalom. This race serves as the debut of the Beijing Olympics for the American star Mikaela Shiffrin.

To accommodate the change, the first run of the giant slalom has been moved from 10:15 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. The men’s downhill will then take place at noon, followed by the final round of the women’s giant slalom at 2:30 p.m. The events take place on different courses, but their collision required some negotiations between the organizers and Olympic television.

What no one can say for sure is whether the wind will calm down enough to allow Yanqing to qualify for the Olympic races, or whether it will turn the competitions into contests of luck in which tee times and gusts of Wind trumps skill in determining the winner.

On Thursday, the first day the skiers tried the descent, they said the mountain was as windy as their reconnaissance reports had suggested. Friday, a freezing and windy day when training was almost canceled, everyone agreed with the assessment of Italian Dominik Paris, a veteran runner and world super-G champion.

“If the race had been held today,” he said, “it wouldn’t have been fair.”

On Saturday and Sunday, the wind was deemed too dangerous for the race, even as temperatures hit the mid-30s on Sunday and the sun was beating down the mountain.

It is not uncommon for weather conditions to cause postponements and delays in Olympic alpine skiing competitions. Rain caused delays at the 2010 Games in Vancouver and high winds did the same in Pyeongchang in 2018.

A bigger problem with the Yanqing site is that the best skiers have never raced the course. Without test events or proper training, the downhill – and the other courses – remained a mystery to the best skiers in the world. Many still don’t know what it will be like to attack the course at speeds approaching 90 miles per hour.

Famous course designer and 1972 Olympic downhill champion Bernhard Russi designed the Yanqing course, but only after the Chinese authorities chose the mountain as the venue for the alpine events.

The upper part of the mountain where the race takes place is largely an exposed rock face in a mountain range that rises from a plain on the northwest edge of Beijing. According to skiers and coaches, the winds are present all over the mountain, but they become particularly troublesome around the so-called Sugar Jump which is about halfway through the two-mile course.

Even Shiffrin, who has only skied the practice runs so far but can compete in five events, sounded the wind, which she says is likely to play a major role in determining winners and losers. – or maybe worse.

“Ideally nobody is going to face one of the really big gusts where you’re almost blown off the mountain,” she said on Friday. “You have constant winds, then minor gusts, and every once in a while you get a tornado gust that you get lost in.”

The worst may be yet to come.

Beijing has infrequent snow in winter, which is the dry season; but there are always storms, which often manifest themselves as strong, dry and icy winds. The city’s weather forecast each winter revolves around when the next strong winds might arrive.

Ji Chongping, Beijing’s chief meteorologist, warned at a press conference Saturday that the city – which includes Yanqing in its northwestern outskirts – could expect fairly strong winds next Monday and Sunday, as well as February 18.

Keith Bradsher contributed report.

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Newsrust - US Top News: The wind postpones the descent and changes the Alpine Olympic calendar
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