An earthquake triggered an alert and high winds disrupted competition at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on Sunday, as officials warned of a severe freeze and urged fans to wrap up warm.
After a bitterly cold first night of competition, a shallow 4.6-magnitude earthquake jolted the eastern portion of South Korea overnight, prompting warnings on mobile phones.
Early on Sunday, ski officials were forced to postpone the showpiece men’s downhill until Thursday as buffeting winds made the high-speed slope too dangerous for competition.
Later, the women’s slopestyle snowboarding also fell victim to the wind, as the qualifying session was scrapped with riders going straight into the final on Monday.
It comes after the first ski jumping final finished more than an hour behind schedule, past midnight on Saturday, as competitors were held up by swirling winds.
As if to complete the set of extreme conditions, an alert warning of a high risk of fire – given the dry, windy weather – also flashed up on mobile phones on Sunday.
Organisers gave assurances that the Games were at no risk from earthquakes, with venues built to withstand even strong tremors. Sunday’s quake was measured at magnitude-4.7 by the US Geological Survey and was about 260 kilometres (160 miles) away.
“All the facilities in the Games area are built so they can withstand strong earthquakes over 7.0… so I assure you there was no issue regarding these facilities,” said Sung Baik-you, spokesman for the Games organisers.
Of more concern for the sparse crowds at the outdoor events will be the biting cold, which has already made Pyeongchang one of the chilliest Olympics on record – and which is set to dramatically worsen.
‘Wear hats and gloves’
Temperatures are forecast to plunge to -14 degrees Celsius (6.8 Fahrenheit) on Monday, will feel like a shivering -25C in the strong, mountainside wind.
“People are advised to dress warmly and wear hats and gloves to keep themselves warm,” warned Sung.
The wind has made life tough so far for competitors, with several athletes complaining of difficult conditions.
“The conditions were pretty crazy today just because of the wind,” said Canada’s Max Parrot, after finishing second in the men’s slopestyle snowboarding on Sunday.
“Sometimes we have front winds, sometimes we have tailwinds. I think we could all see the difficulty today in the runs.”
The men’s ski jumping was particularly unpleasant, as the athletes had to contend with freezing cold at the top of the hill as well as their nerves as the delayed competition dragged on.
“It was cold as ice up there,” said Austria’s Michael Hayboeck, who finished 17th, while Poland’s Dawid Kubacki said the wind made the competition “a lottery”.
“It was really bad for me, what I can do?” he asked. “It’s something I have no influence on. I need to jump in the conditions when they let me go.”
However, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said the ski jumpers were never in danger.
“Athlete safety is our number one concern,” said spokesman Mark Adams. “All these venues are organised in very close contact with the federations.
“We’re very, very confident the federations and athletes know what they can and can’t do.”
Teenage snowboarder Red Gerard won the first Olympic medal for the United States on Friday but Canada’s Mark McMorris stole the show with an inspirational bronze medal.
Gerard, 17, became the youngest US men’s Olympic champion since 1928 with victory in slopestyle, with Canada’s Max Parrot taking the silver.
In another gold medal performance Simen Hegstad Krueger led a Norwegian podium sweep as he took gold in the men’s skiathlon. Charlotte Kalla won the women’s event for Sweden on Saturday.
But McMorris staked an early claim for the most inspirational story at the Pyeongchang Winter Games with his bronze medal finish just 11 months after a near-fatal crash.
His triumph came after an earthquake triggered an alert, high winds disrupted events and a fire warning was issued on a day of more sub-zero cold that left athletes and spectators shivering.
McMorris was fighting for his life after breaking 17 bones and suffering a collapsed lung and ruptured spleen in a snowboarding accident last year.
“I don’t want to think too much about the past today, but I appreciate the fact I’m here on my snowboard,” he said.
“Whatever the outcome was today, just me being pumped on being able to ride a snowboard.”
Earlier Sunday high winds forced the postponement of the showpiece men’s downhill alpine skiing race and a shallow 4.6 magnitude earthquake jolted parts of eastern South Korea. Officials later warned of a high risk of fire due to the tinder-dry conditions in the region.
After the downhill was put off, the women’s women’s slopestyle snowboarding also fell victim to the wind, as the qualifying session was scrapped with riders going straight into the final on Monday.
The men’s downhill will now be raced on Thursday.
Later Sunday French biathlon champion Martin Fourcade opens his campaign for multiple Olympic honours.
France’s most decorated winter Olympian with four medals including two golds, Fourcade is a strong contender to take a first gold medal in Pyeongchang in the biathlon sprint.
Standing in his way is Norway’s Johannes Thingnes Bo, the 26-year-old who has been battling him for honours from the start of the season, with the Frenchman gaining an edge heading into the Games.
“It’s a duel that motivates me,” said Fourcade, the 29-year-old French army officer. “I see it as an obligation to perform better because I know that I need to do my best in order to beat him.”
Six gold medals in total are up for grabs Sunday with speedskating, luge and freestyle skiing still to come as well as the biathlon.
Canada’s Justine Dufour-Lapointe, the defending champion, is back and heads a strong field in the women’s freestyle skiing moguls.
In speedskating Dutch idol Sven Kramer can race into the record books as the first male to win three gold medals in a specific skating event.
In Luge Germany’s Felix Loch can become the sport’s first four-time gold medallist as the final two runs of men’s singles are contested.
Provided by AFP Sport
The next time you have a ‘domestic’ with your nearest and dearest spare a thought for love on ice couple Chris and Alexa Knierim.
The US figure skaters competing at the olympics are partners on the ice, and married off it.
They say you should never take your work home with you, but for the two-time former US champions it’s unavoidable.
A heated exchange over the cornflakes needs to be quickly forgotten if like Alexa you have to put your total trust in the man you would have happily throttled a short time earlier. He’s the one throwing you up in the air, spinning, and then catching you – all the while having to wear a smile.
“Yeh, you can get that kind of situation, with any relationship whether you’re married or just work partners,” Chris told AFP.
Alexa nods in agreement: “We’re human, so we still run in to that sometimes.”
“I think it’s easy for us in our situation and maybe its different for other people that it’s an asset for us,” Chris adds, “we know what works and what doesn’t, talking, you know how to say something the right way.
“It’s a lot of communication, we’ve learned throughout the years of being together what works and what doesn’t.
“We switch off the minute you get in the ring – yeh for sure.”
Rink romance in Pyeongchang is by no means confined to the Knierims.
Russians Vladimir Morozov and Evgenia Tarasova, the two-time European champions, are rarely out of step whether are on or off.
“We had mutual understanding from the very beginning,” Tarasova said.
“I decided to listen to Vladimir in everything, he is older, but I do not remember him ever raising his voice at me.”
Her red-haired work and life companion added: “We practically do not have these situations, honestly! Maybe that’s our power.”
With all the athleticism, artistry, and emotional intelligence required in their sport, the Knierims say that life off the ice is by far the easy part.
“Outside the rink life is easy,” explains Alexa.
“I mean skating’s our job, that’s our income, that’s our livelihood, that’s the stress.
“When we go home it’s play time, it’s easy.”
It was not always like that, they say.
“Right after we got married we had a lot of life obstacles,” she said, with Nick agreeing: “We really hit the marriage hard.”
“Yep sickness, death in the family, we hit it all, those things changed us on the ice,” added Alexa.
But love on and off the ice does not conquer all.
The Knierim’s fellow Americans, ice dance pair Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue ended their two-and-a-half year romance but kept the day job and remain a couple on ice.
“To work harder and do all of these things right, we just realised that to date and be with each other 24-7 with our particular personalities was just explosive,” Donohue said.
“We had to ask ourselves what was more important, our on-ice partnership or our off-ice relationship?
“And we were both very clearly said the on-ice partnership is No. 1,” added his ex.