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Wind Causes Wipeouts, Postponements on Pyeongchang Slopes

Superstar Mikaela Shiffrin's South Korea debut has been delayed, and the women's snowboarding slopestyle featured more wipeouts than clean runs

Mere mortals have struggled to stop skiing superstar Mikaela Shiffrin in the last few years. Mother Nature has had no such trouble in South Korea.

Shiffrin, one of the biggest names on Team USA, was supposed to make her Pyeongchang debut on Monday (Sunday night in the U.S.) in the women's giant slalom. But dangerous winds forced organizers to reschedule the first two days of alpine skiing events, including the giant slalom. While snowboarders competed in their disciplines, wind appeared to affect performances, especially in women’s slopestyle, at Phoenix Park.

Shiffrin, a gold medal contender in both slalom and giant slalom, will now wait until at least Wednesday to make her Pyeongchang debut. The giant slalom was rescheduled for Thursday, and the slalom is scheduled for Wednesday morning. 

"It’s a bummer that we’re not able to race today," Shiffrin said, according to a tweet from the U.S. Ski and Snowboard official account. "With the training block I’ve had, I’m prepared and feeling good. I’ll use this time to continue to train and refocus on Wednesday’s slalom race."

Low temperatures have hovered in the single digits, dipping below zero Fahrenheit with unforgiving gusts whipping at 45 mph making it feel much colder. Fans as well as athletes are dealing with conditions that have tested even the most seasoned winter sports veterans.

The first postponement of the Games was the men’s downhill event, which was moved from Sunday morning to Thursday. With two events moved to Thursday, men’s super-G was bumped from Thursday to Friday.

The women’s slopestyle final proceeded as scheduled after qualifying runs were canceled entirely. The wind appeared to affect many riders, as Jamie Anderson of the United States won gold with a score of 83.00 — compare that to the 94.00 she notched to take first in the same event at X Games Aspen 2018, just two weeks earlier. Scores were down across the board, with just six scores topping 70.00.

Because qualifying runs were canceled, all 26 snowboarders competed in the finals, and each got two runs instead of three. That left them little room for error in the poor conditions, and most athletes didn't break out their best tricks. There were more wipeouts than clean runs.

"I’m not happy about it being run," Cheryl Maas of the Netherlands, who placed 23rd, told The Washington Post. "It’s not just me. It’s everybody landing on their ass. It sucks not seeing 1080s. It was just a ­s---show."

"You're going up the chairlift and you see these little tornadoes," said Czech snowboarder Sarka Pancohova, who finished 16th, "and you're like, 'What is this?'"

Men’s combined is slated for Tuesday morning (Monday night in the U.S.), as is the women’s snowboard halfpipe final. Men’s snowboard halfpipe qualifying is scheduled for later in the day Tuesday.

At ski jumping, giant netting was set up to reduce the wind that can blow at three times the optimal velocity for the sport. Didn't help all that much, though: The men's normal hill final on Saturday was pushed back repeatedly and eventually finished after midnight.

"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.'"

The forecast calls for more high winds Tuesday and Wednesday, although temperatures are expected to climb to 26.

Even those attending indoor events have been tested. Long, cold waits for buses have left workers, media and fans complaining.

Those involved in winter sports are used to this sort of thing, of course.

At the 2007 Alpine world championships in Sweden, for example, strong winds wiped out first three days of competition. At the 1993 world championships in Japan, the men's super-G was never contested.

It can happen the other way, too. At the 2010 Vancouver Games, the first two Alpine races were postponed because of rain and — get this — too-warm temperatures in the 40s. The entire Alpine world championships slated for Spain in 1995 were rescheduled for a whole year later because of a lack of snow.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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