Winter Olympics: Men's downhill event postponed due to high winds

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The blue riband men’s downhill, scheduled to open the Olympic alpine skiing programme, will be raced Thursday after high winds forced its postponement Sunday.

“Due to the strong wind and unfavourable forecast for today, the men’s downhill is postponed,” the International Ski Federation (FIS) announced.

“The jury has decided to switch the official programme and has rescheduled the men’s downhill for Thursday, February 15, and the men’s super-G on Friday, February 16,” FIS said, with the downhill set to start at 0200 GMT.

The downhill training for the men’s combined event scheduled for Monday has also been cancelled.

It is not the first time Mother Nature has played havoc with the best laid plans for alpine skiing at the olympics.

Four years ago in Sochi, the latter part of the programme was rescheduled because of poor weather while the downhill in Vancouver in 2010 was put back two days because of heavy snow and rain.

The downhill at the 1998 Nagano Games was rescheduled on three occasions, also because of heavy snow and rain.

Just prior to the postponement, FIS said the “hill is closed to everyone”, meaning that the gondola that transports athletes, their backroom staff, timing and course officials up to the Jeongseon slope would not be running.

Hungary's Dalibor Samsal makes a run during the Men's Downhill third Training.

Hungary’s Dalibor Samsal makes a run during the Men’s Downhill third Training.

Luckily for the male racers, they managed to get three downhill training sessions in under their belts, racing the third in similarly gloomy weather forecasts that eased at the last minute.

Given that skiing is an outdoor event, at the mercy of the elements, its Olympic programme is always designed with contingencies at hand.

The 11 medal events in Pyeongchang are run over 17 days, with racers having to have completed at least one downhill training run in order to be able to compete in the downhill proper.

The scheduling allows FIS to be able to tinker with the line-up, often bringing forward more technical events like slalom and giant slalom which can at a push be raced in heavy snow for instance.

“We kind of expected this downhill to be postponed due to wind, but at the same time the guys were charged up and ready to go,” said Sasha Rearick, the men’s alpine head coach of the US team.

“With this being an outdoor sport, it is not abnormal.”

Rearick said racers now have to “harness (energy), stay relaxed, and then be able to ramp back up”.

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Winter Olympics: Carlijn Achtereekte leads Dutch speed skating sweep

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Carlijn won women’s 3,000m speed skating gold.

Carlijn Achtereekte produced the best race of her life to seize the Olympic title and lead a Dutch podium sweep in the women’s 3,000-metre speed skating on Saturday. The 28-year-old skated in the fifth of 12 heats, well before the favourites, but her dazzling effort of 3:59.21 held up to win.

“A gold medal – it’s an incredible feeling. I cannot believe it,” Achtereekte said. “I feel so good.

“I thought I had to skate the best race of my life and I did it and I won – that’s incredible.”

Ireen Wust, the 2006 and 2014 champion, was 0.08sec behind to take silver, with Dutch Olympic trials winner Antoinette de Jong third in 4:00.02.

Achtereekte was third at the Dutch Olympic trials and second in last month’s European championships in 4:06.81, but became a shock winner when it mattered most.

“It was almost perfect,” Achtereekte said of her race. “It was so good a race. I skated so good.”

Wust was on pace for gold until her final lap at Gangneung Oval, faltering just enough at the finish to squander the title.

“I’m feeling OK, a little disappointed,” Wust said. “It was not good. I was on schedule for the gold but the last lap was too hard and I didn’t make it.”

Wust missed out on becoming the first Dutch woman to defend a Winter Olympic title, and only the second woman with back-to-back golds in the event.

Wust took her ninth Olympic speed skating medal, matching the all-time record total of Germany’s Claudia Pechstein and tying the Dutch career record for Olympic medals by equestrian rider Anky Van Grunsven.

But it was another near-miss for Wust, a four-time Olympic champion who also settled for silver in the 1,000m, 1,500m and 5,000m at Sochi in 2014.

“I have to be happy and I will be happy with silver, but I came for gold so it’s a little disappointing. It was a hard one,” Wust said.

Wust would have been the first Dutch athlete to win five Olympic golds in the Winter or Summer Games.

Pechstein, a record nine-time Olympic speedskating medallist who turns 46 later this month, missed her chance to win a medal at a sixth different Winter Olympics, finishing ninth in 4:04.49.

Italy’s Francesca Lollobrigida, the great-niece of famed 1950s actress Gina Lollobrigida, finished 13th in 4:08.58.

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Winter Olympics: Historic unified Korean women's ice hockey team lose 8-0 on debut

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The unified Korea women’s ice hockey team were soundly beaten 8-0 by Switzerland on Saturday’s opening day of the Winter Olympics as sport and politics continued to mix in Pyeongchang.

When South Korea president Moon Jae-in shook hands with Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korea leader Kim Jong-un, at Friday night’s opening ceremony, many thought it was more than a polite gesture.

Relations may be thawing. Kim Yo-jong and Moon met in Seoul on Saturday, where it was reported she invited South Korea’s leader to Pyeongyang for the first summit between leaders of the neighbouring nations for 10 years.

Often it has said that sport and politics should not mix. But at these Olympics they are intertwined.

The build-up has been dominated by matters involving North Korea and Russia.

Kim Yo-jong and North Korea’s ceremonial head of state Kim Yong-nam were sitting beside International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach here, as a unified Korea team played in the Games for the first time.

Rarely can a ice hockey arena, one where sticks are swung, bodies are slammed and violence can break out, be considered the scene for rapprochement.

Yet last month the North agreed with South Korea to send 22 athletes and a 230-strong ‘cheering squad’ to Pyeongchang.

As 12 of those athletes in the unified ice hockey team took to the ice for the warm-up at Kwandong Hockey Centre, the cheering squad arrived, later dancing along with western music performed by two South Korean rappers.

The team played together for the first time last Sunday in Incheon, losing 3-1 to Sweden.

Here they met a Switzerland squad vastly more experienced at playing together.

Korea held firm until Swiss ace Alina Muller scored twice in quick succession midway through the first period.
And thereafter Switzerland appeared more likely to reach double figures than to concede a goal in a comfortable victory.

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