By Nick Mulvenney
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) – Race officials are considering alternative plans in case forecast high winds force the postponement of Sunday’s men’s downhill but the option of moving the race forward by a day has already been rebuffed by Olympic officials.
International ski federation (FIS) Chief Race Director Markus Waldner said winds in excess of 30 knots (55.6 kph) would close the gondola that transports the skiers to the top of the mountain for the opening race of the 2018 Olympics.
That would force the postponement of the race at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre but a proposal to move it forward to Saturday, when more clement weather is forecast, had been rejected by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
“We are looking ahead because we are facing challenging conditions from Sunday,” Waldner told the daily briefing of the Alpine skiing team captains on Thursday.
“We discussed moving the race forward to Saturday with the IOC but for many, many reasons, this is not an option. This is an IOC decision, we can only offer them a technical solution from a sporting position but they have made their decision.”
The men’s downhill, the opening race of the 2018 Olympics, is the blue riband event in Alpine skiing and would remain a “priority” within the rescheduling if the weather forecast was born out, Waldner added.
Given the unpredictability of the weather in the mountains, races are regularly postponed during World Cup and Olympic competition.
The Alpine skiing at the 1998 Games in Nagano was heavily disrupted by heavy snow and rain and the men’s downhill was rescheduled three times.
The schedule for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics was similarly impacted by poor course conditions and bad weather at Whistler with the men’s downhill postponed by two days.There was also some rescheduling of the Alpine skiing at the last Winter Olympics in Sochi when rain, fog and rising temperatures disrupted the final part of the competition.
Given this experience, Olympic organisers deliberately schedule the Alpine skiing early in the Games to ensure to allow for adjustments.
An emergency committee meeting would be held to reschedule the races once the postponement was confirmed, Waldner said, but those calculations could be complicated by continuing high winds throughout the first three days of competition.
Anybody resting their hopes on an inaccurate weather forecast might also be disappointed, he said.
“Unfortunately, the weather forecast here is very accurate,” Waldner added.
“We in Europe, we had a different experience in past years, it was always the opposite. If it said it was bad, it was nice. But here it is very accurate.”
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Amlan Chakraborty)