WHISTLER, British Columbia (AP) — Officials postponed the men’s downhill event at the Vancouver Olympics Saturday hours before it was set to begin, saying slushy conditions made it impossible to race.
Rather than take a chance and try to see if the weather improved, organizers called off the race shortly after 4 a.m. local time, about 7½ hours before it was scheduled to start. With no replacement date set, it isn’t clear when the Alpine events might begin.
Repeated snow, rain, fog and too-warm temperatures have turned the Olympic slopes into a soft, mushy mess too dangerous to be used for high-speed skiing. The first women’s event, the super-combined, was supposed to be Sunday, and the decision to postpone that was made Friday.
The International Ski Federation said snow and rain throughout the night, along with expected mild temperatures during the day, made for poor skiing conditions. Highs on the course were only supposed to be in the low 40s, and a mix of rain, sleet and snow was likely.
The next men’s team captains’ meeting was scheduled for Sunday evening, virtually guaranteeing that the men’s downhill will not be raced Sunday. Officials will likely try to get women’s training in Sunday, and hold the men’s downhill Monday at the earliest.
With its location close to the Pacific Ocean, bad weather has always been an issue in Whistler.
For three consecutive years in the mid-1990s, the World Cup ski circuit came to the Canadian resort and failed to get a single race off. It wasn’t just a case of calling off a particular downhill or super-G; entire weekends had to be scrapped. Eventually, Whistler was removed from the World Cup circuit.
Mother Nature proved to be a problem again this time. Only one of six training runs for men and women has been completed as planned.
The opening men’s downhill training session on Wednesday was abandoned after thick fog prevented half the field from starting their runs. Then a shortened men’s session was completed Thursday and Friday’s session called off.
Only two skiers — one of whom crashed — started the opening women’s training on Thursday before it too was abandoned. Lucia Recchia of Italy made it safely down Franz’s Run but the No. 2 starter, Stacey Cook of Mammoth Calif., lost control and slammed into the safety netting at high speed.
Women’s training sessions on Friday and Saturday also were called off.
Rules require that at least one complete training session be held before any downhill or super-combined race, meaning the women still need to get a practice run in.
Weather problems are nothing new to Alpine events at the Olympics — or skiing in general — which is why off-days are built into the program to accommodate rescheduling.
At the 2006 Turin Games, the women’s combined was split over two days and the women’s super-G was postponed by 24 hours. The men’s super-G in Sestriere was delayed for hours due to heavy snowfall. Back at the 1984 Sarajevo Games, the men’s and women’s downhill races were postponed until after the giant slalom events, and some events were postponed at the 1998 Nagano Games, too.