ZHANGJIAKOU, China (Reuters) – Fresh snow was a curse not a blessing at the women’s freeski slopestyle qualifiers at the Beijing Games on Monday as athletes skidded, crashed and fell during what many described as a challenging and sometimes scary event.
A blizzard over the weekend dumped several inches of fresh powder on the Genting Snow Park in Zhangjiakou, forcing organisers to postpone the qualifiers, which were initially scheduled for Sunday, to Monday.
Nearly half of the skiers stumbled or missed their landings, wiping out on the unusually soft snow.
Rescuers rushed onto the course to help French skier Tess Ledeux after she crashed and fell during the first round of qualifiers. Ledeux, who won silver at the Big Air final last week, said the large course was particularly challenging.
“The speed is so slow today because the snow is new,” the 20-year-old said after she managed to stand up and finish her second run. Ledeux managed to earn a score of 68.13 and secured a spot in Tuesday’s final.
U.S.-born Chinese team member Eileen Gu, who also stumbled during her first run and briefly touched the snow to balance herself, said qualifiers were always “nerve-racking” but Monday’s event had been “scary”.
German Alia Delia Eichinger and Russian Ksenia Orlova both struggled to make stable landings after their jumps.
A hush fell over the crowd at the slopestyle venue after American Marin Hamill crashed after her second jump. Hamill lay motionless for several moments as rescuers in red and orange jackets rushed to treat her.
The qualifiers were paused and U.S. team members looked on anxiously as Hamill was taken off the course on a stretcher and put into an ambulance.
Earlier in the day, fellow American Caroline Claire fell during a practice run down the course and did not participate in the event.
“The conditions are really tough, especially yesterday with it being cancelled,” said British skier Kirsty Muir, who ranked sixth in the qualifier.
(Reporting by Winni Zhou and Mari Saito)