Alpine skiing: Shiffrin won’t give up slalom gold easily

Alpine skiing: Shiffrin won\'t give up slalom gold easily
Colorado’s Winter Olympics cheat sheet: how and when to watch, terms to know, local athletes and more
nPYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) – Alpine skiing organizers are trying to be creative to get the Olympic program up and running after the first two days of competition were postponed because of high winds.

The men’s downhill and women’s giant slalom have both been moved to Thursday and there was more hope than expectation at the team captain’s briefing for Tuesday’s event, the men’s combined.

“We don’t see great changes for tomorrow or Wednesday,” men’s chief race director Markus Waldner said at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre, venue for the speed races.

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Colorado’s Winter Olympics cheat sheet: how and when to watch, terms to know, local athletes and more

“We all know with big wind gusts it’s not possible to put on speed races.

Plus, all sorts of contingency plans have been considered. They could reduce the length of the downhill by about 20 seconds and shorten the slalom by 10 gates. Another possibility would be to delay the start of the downhill in hopes of calmer conditions and push the slalom back three hours so it would be run under the lights at 6 p.m. local time (4 a.m. ET).

“Tomorrow could be a challenging day. Or it might be a very easy day if we wake up and the gondola isn’t running.”

Strong Winds Bring More Skiing Delays, and Good News for Shiffrin
Strong Winds Bring More Skiing Delays, and Good News for Shiffrin

Winds in excess of 70 kilometers per hour prevented the gondola that carries the skiers to the top of the mountain from running on Sunday, causing the downhill to be postponed.

Waldner pointed out that he needs to figure out a way to get three men’s races – the combined, downhill and super-G – completed by Friday, because there is only one hotel right by the course, and male skiers need to move out to make way for their female counterparts, whose speed events are supposed to begin Saturday.

The windy conditions at Pyeongchang are wreaking havoc on the Olympics

If the gondola is running, organizers will try everything to get some racing going, delaying the downhill run by an hour at a time until 2 pm (0500 GMT) rather than postponing it in the hope that better conditions might emerge.

Canadians and Norwegians enter the slopestyle competition the strongest in the field but one young American could bring an upset: 17-year-old Red Gerard. Gerard was the only American to make the final in Saturday’s qualifying round. He’s known for being a creative rider. Gerard is going up against Mark McMorris, the snowboarder who has dominated the event, and other favorites: McMorris’s teammate, Max Parrot, and Marcus Kleveland of Norway. McMorris, the bronze medalist at the 2014 Olympic Games, has won a slopestyle medal at every X Games Aspen since 2011, but he was badly injured last year after crashing into a tree while snowboarding.  

Any delay to the 11.30 am (0230 GMT) start time would immediately trigger a decision to run the slalom element of the combined event under lights as a night race at 6 pm (0900 GMT), Waldner said.

Maia and Alex Shibutani and Olympic first-timer Bradie Tennell will be skating when team competition resumes. The #ShibSibs, as they’re known, will perform in the ice dance, while Tennell will appear in the women’s short program. The team event consists of a men’s skater, a woman’s skater, a pair of ice dancers and pairs skaters.

Laughter rumbled through the room when Waldner asked for a weather forecast for Wednesday, when the women’s slalom is scheduled for Yongpyong, only to be met with a single phrase from the local meteorologist.

2nd Alpine postponement means Shiffrin starts with slalom at Olympics
2nd Alpine postponement means Shiffrin starts with slalom at Olympics

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“Wednesday will be very windy,” he said, with the emphasis firmly on the “very”.

When slopestyle made its debut at the last Olympics, riders from Canada, Norway and the United States each won a medal. U.S. medalist Sage Kotsenburg has since retired and the U.S. are considered the underdogs in Pyeongchang. The course is one of the most unique designs ever seen.

Hopes are high that the winds will ease on Thursday, allowing both the men’s downhill at the Jeongseon mountain and the women’s giant slalom at Yongpyong to go ahead. The men’s Super G has been rescheduled for Friday, which was due to be a rest day.

The Americans are second behind behind Canada after the pairs and men’s short programs. Team USA’s Nathan Chen had a disappointing night in his debut when he fell on a triple axel attempt during the men’s short program in the figure skating team event.

“We are confident especially for Thursday,” Waldner said, adding that the men’s downhill had now been moved back half an hour to 11.30 am local time to allow the women’s race to start later.

The wind has also had an effect on the biathlon. Cold, windy conditions make the cross-country skiing difficult enough, but it has most affected the shooting portion of the event. According to The Associated Press, unlike other events, the biathlon doesn’t have any mechanisms to dull the wind.

The first run of the giant slalom will now be at 10.00 am local time on Thursday with the second run starting at 1.45 pm, organizers confirmed on Monday evening.

Waldner also said he had a plan to get the men’s downhill racers on to the Jeongseon piste on Wednesday but was not able to give full details until it had been approved by the International Olympic Committee.

Disruption to the Alpine skiing schedule has been a regular feature of the Winter Olympics over the years with organizers leaving plenty of room for maneuver in the scheduling.

The icy winds that tore through the Pyeongchang mountains on Monday also wreaked havoc at a snowboard final, raising questions about athlete safety.

What is alpine skiing? Your Winter Olympics 2018 guide to downhill ski racing

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Weather delays have plagued Alpine races at the Winter Olympics for more than 50 years. It is a natural consequence of the typical Winter Games setting, where altitude and a seasonable climate can lead to excessive snow and high winds. Either one can make a ski course unsafe.

Alpine skiing still hasn’t started at all, leaving stars like Mikaela Shiffrin of the U.S. and Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway waiting for their turn in the spotlight. Each of the first two races on the program — the men’s downhill Sunday, and the women’s giant slalom Monday — were called off hours before they were supposed to begin. Both of those have been moved to Thursday, when things are supposed to become slightly more manageable.

Although the Alpine courses at the Pyeongchang Olympics are not at an especially high elevation for an Olympics (less than 4,000 feet), strong, gusty winds of 40 to 60 miles per hour this week have whipped through the valleys and mountain passes.

Waldner pointed out that he needs to figure out a way to get three men’s races — the combined, downhill and super-G — completed by Friday, because there is only one hotel right by the speed course at the Jeongseon Alpine Center. The male skiers need to vacate their rooms to make way for their female counterparts, whose speed events are supposed to begin Saturday.

The conditions caused the postponement of the men’s downhill here on Sunday. On Monday, the women’s giant slalom was called off as well, despite bright sun. The swirling winds were so harsh it was hard to keep the cloth panels used to mark the gates affixed to the gate poles. Expecting the racers, even the best in the world, to negotiate down the course was asking too much.

The Olympic Alpine calendar included days built into the schedule in case of weather delays when it was formed months ago. But with the weather not expected to improve until Wednesday, Olympic officials on Monday did something uncharacteristic: In essence, they threw up their hands and gave in to the weather.

“It was unbelievably cold,” said Japan’s Noriaki Kasai, competing at his record eighth Olympics. “The noise of the wind at the top of the jump was incredible. I’ve never experienced anything like that on the World Cup circuit. I said to myself, ‘Surely they are going to cancel this.’ “

Officials had been hoping to avoid running two Alpine races on the same day since it diminishes the profile of each event. Over the years, they have been especially protective of the men’s downhill, the most daredevil Alpine event and a signature race of any Winter Olympics.

But Monday, with no Alpine events having been contested four days into the Pyeongchang Olympics, officials knew they had to start holding some races and handing out some medals as soon as possible. As a result, the women’s giant slalom was rescheduled for Thursday, the same day that the postponed men’s downhill will be held.

Such a scenario has happened before, but it is a signal that Olympic officials, and perhaps American television executives, were increasingly vexed that the windblown Pyeongchang Games were listing through the first week of competition without one of the featured sports.

If two events would have to be held on one day — at two separate Alpine sites, which means twice as much manpower needed — so be it.

There are other unintentional but weighty consequences to the revised schedule, one of which appears to significantly favor the American skier Mikaela Shiffrin.

How Windy Is It In PyeongChang? Some Olympic Events Were Postponed Over Extreme Gusts

The new Alpine calendar has the men’s Alpine combined scheduled for Tuesday, although high winds may lead to that event’s postponement as well. But on Wednesday, when the weather is expected to be fair with light winds, the women’s slalom will be raced.

That means Shiffrin’s first race at the Pyeongchang Olympics will be her best event. Shiffrin, the defending Olympic slalom champion and a three-time slalom world champion, will be a prohibitive favorite in Wednesday’s race, which could be a considerable confidence boost for her in her quest for multiple Olympic gold medals at Pyeongchang.

Olympic men’s downhill race is blowing in the wind

Shiffrin is expected to race in at least four events, and perhaps five, including Thursday’s giant slalom. The two runs of that race will be contested before and after the men’s downhill, which may make for interesting viewing back in the United States on Wednesday night, but it is less than ideal for Olympic officials who have spent several frustrating days wrapped tight in their parkas to protect against the subzero wind chill temperatures.

But at least the Alpine competition at the 2018 Winter Olympics will have finally started.

Olympic men’s downhill postponed until Thursday amid wind

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