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Alpine skiing: Weather delays put Pyeongchang course workers to the test

By Rory Carroll

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - The fierce winds that have postponed the majority of Alpine skiing events may be keeping Olympic athletes sidelined, but course workers are pulling in overtime shifts to ensure the slopes are ready for action when the gusts finally subside.

Although the men's Alpine combined went ahead amid blustery conditions on Tuesday, Wednesday's women's slalom was moved at the last minute to Friday as the swirling winds at the Yongpyong Alpine Centre were deemed unacceptable for fair competition.

That means all the work that went into carefully setting up the course will have to be repeated as athletes and fans patiently wait for Mother Nature to cooperate.

Craig Randell, a start crew technician working on his third Olympics, told Reuters the conditions were unlike anything he has seen before, but said the Games spirit of collaboration was helping workers cope with tough 12-hour shifts.

"I've never in my life experienced this caliber of wind," he said on Wednesday, his 18th consecutive workday.

"In over 15 years of course working maybe not this much cold either.

"Spirits are high still. The volunteer workforce must have a large life because nothing really phases them," he added.

"For sure people are getting tired and for sure would enjoy seeing a final result, but it will come and it will be great."

The typical day for Randell and his colleagues in Pyeongchang kicks off at 5 a.m. with an hour-and-a-half commute that includes a bus and gondola ride.

Once on site workers begin erecting safety nets and crash pads as well as building race starts and putting up a variety of banners for television around the course.

While closely monitoring the weather the team comfort themselves with heat packs, extra clothes, frostbite protection and lots of Korean coffee, Randell said.

It can be as late as 10 p.m. before they return to their dormitory-like living quarters, where they get some rest before facing another early morning.

Randell said dedication and a strong passion for the sport is why he and his fellow workers persevere.

"It's amazing how for example how seven people from different parts of the world can meet, stratify a distinct plan of need and create a final accomplishment," he said.

"Different cultures and sometimes different languages however one common goal," said Randell, a Canadian who lives in Nelson, British Columbia. "It's all about these people."

(Reporting by Rory Carroll, editing by Ed Osmond)