PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — The skiers arrived at the start of the women’s slalom today. And then they waited.
Strong, gusty, swirling winds again postponed an alpine race at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. It will now run on Friday, Feb. 16.
Websites reports showed steady west southwest winds at 20 mph in PyeongChang, with gusts up to 36 knots (or about 41 mph) — likely higher near the mountain peaks.
It’s the third time that winds have forced postponement of an alpine event at these Games. On Sunday, the men’s downhill was postponed until Thursday, and on Monday, the women’s giant slalom was postponed until Thursday as well.
For the skiers, weather delays are challenging. It takes both physical and mental energy to prepare in the days and hours leading up to each race.
But for the American women, including defending Olympic gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin, it’s business as usual.
“We’ve been through days like this before, on world cup quite often,” U.S. women’s head coach Paul Kristofic said. “They do happen to us, so we’re quite used to it.”
“It is definitely unfortunate that we weren’t able to race today,” added Shiffrin. “But it is important we have a fair race for all of the athletes, and today’s conditions would definitely not have been fair. Weather delays and postponements are just the nature of an outdoor sport.”
Of the four American women listed as starters for the slalom, three are competing in giant slalom Thursday, including Shiffrin. They skied down from the slalom start and will train giant slalom today.
“We roll with the punches and make the best of the situation and try to prepare the best we can for the next day,” said Kristofic.
Race cancellations and postponements usually happen in the speed events of super-G and downhill, and rarely in the slower tech events of slalom and giant slalom.
But paramount at the Olympic Games is that competitions are fair. And swirling, gusty winds can give one skier an advantage, then cause havoc for the next.
Ted Ligety discovered this yesterday in men’s alpine combined — the only alpine race that has run so far at the PyeongChang Olympics. There are 11 alpine events total for the men and women.
A gust of wind caught Ligety during the downhill portion of the combined, and he finished over two seconds off the pace.
He then laid down the fourth fastest slalom run and moved into fifth. It tied Ligety’s best performance in combined at the Olympic Winter Games since he won the gold medal at the 2006 Torino Games. He also finished fifth in combined at the Vancouver Games in 2010.
“To battle from a disadvantage against some of the best slalom skiers in the world isn’t really the formula for a medal,” he said.
But it’s “the reality of an outdoor sport,” he added. “Not being on the lucky side of that definitely affects where you’re going to end up.”
The jury postponed the women’s slalom with the athletes’ safety in mind, but also fairness.
“To run in unstable conditions can go in your favor, or it can go completely against you,” echoed Kristofic. “So no one really wants to see that. We want to see a good, fair race for everybody.”
Winds are forecast to die down under 20 mph Thursday and through the weekend.
With the women’s giant slalom running Thursday and slalom on Friday, Shiffrin will have a hectic schedule, especially if she adds the super-G on Saturday.
But it is no different than a typical world cup weekend, where athletes often race slalom one day and giant slalom the next. At the Lake Louise World Cup, the women typically race three events in a row (two downhills and one super-G).
“It compresses the schedule,” said Kristofic. “So it makes for a more hectic five to six days as we approach into the speed events. That’s something we’re considering as we move forward.”
As for Shiffrin, she remains focused and excited.
“We’ll continue to take it day by day,” she said, “and I look forward to getting in the start gate!”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered four Olympic Games, PyeongChang is her fifth. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.