Pyeongchang (South Korea) (AFP) – America’s Mikaela Shiffrin will have to wait until Thursday to kick off her bid for multiple Olympic medals after the opening women’s giant slalom was postponed Monday because of strong winds.
It was rescheduled for Thursday, with the two legs to be raced either side of the men’s downhill, FIS confirmed.
“Due to strong winds and the weather forecast, today’s giant slalom is postponed,” FIS announced.
The blue riband downhill was also postponed Sunday because of high winds and an unfavourable weather forecast which saw the cancellation of Monday’s downhill training for the men’s combined event.
The forecast for the Yongpyong course, where the women’s giant slalom would have been held, was for another bitterly cold day on Monday, with temperatures of -16 degrees Celsius (3.2 Fahrenheit).
That will be accompanied by winds gusting at up to 18m peer second, lending a truly glacial chill. Bad weather also delayed the women’s slopestyle final on Monday.
“The weather forecast is not great in terms of wind,” Atle Skaardal, chief race director for women’s FIS races, admitted Sunday as he ran through initial planning for the giant slalom.
At the Jeongseon course used for speed events, the winds were so strong that the gondola used to take racers and officials up the mountain could not run for safety reasons.
The women are also reliant on a gondola, the 3.7km-long Rainbow lift.
– Shiffrin’s quest –
The opening giant slalom was to be followed by Shiffrin’s slalom title defence on Wednesday and the super-G on Saturday, with the downhill, combined and team events to come in the second week of competition.
The 22-year-old Shiffrin could realistically target four of five medals at the Games, but will face stiff opposition from the likes of France’s Tessa Worley, the reigning world giant slalom champion.
“I’m a little surprised,” Worley said of the postponement.
“They told us that the Olympic giant slalom was going to be held. I was really stoked for it.
“No matter how windy it was outside, I was ready.”
Worley, who was also crowned world GS champion in 2013, added: “The decision has been quickly taken. We’ll just get back to the Olympic village as quickly as possible.”
Romain Velez, head coach of the French women’s team, said snow conditions were “very good”.
“But there’s an enormous amount of wind. It was dangerous because it was moving the gates around.
“It was a wise decision,” Velez said.
“We were expecting to experience a tough day. Finally they decided quite early on to postpone it.
“We’ll take our foot off the pedal and head off straight away to prepare to come back when the race is rescheduled.”
France’s three-time former Olympian Luc Alphand, whose daughter Estelle was to race the giant for Sweden, was on the piste for television, adding: “On the ground this morning we were pitching right over. It was almost impossible.
“The first factor is the wind. It’s really too strong. It’s (blowing) on the side. The second thing for the racers is the temperature. OK, you can manage it; the restaurant (athlete warming area) is not too far from the start but, anyway, you’re freezing cold after the inspection already. It’s impossible, for sure.”
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 are run over 17 days, the scheduling allowing FIS to be able to tinker with the line-up.
That normally means bringing forward more technical events like slalom and giant slalom which can be raced in heavy snow and also wind, but there is no doubt FIS will be desperately hoping the winds that have been buffeting the South Korean venues soon dissipate.