PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) Mikaela Shiffrin’s pursuit of gold at the Pyeongchang Olympics will start on a different day than everyone expected – and in a different event, the slalom, which is her forte.
Of course, that’s assuming they ever get around to doing any racing at all in Alpine skiing. Each of the first two contests were postponed because of dangerous winds that exceeded 25 mph (40 kph) and the forecast predicts more of the same on Tuesday and Wednesday.
”I am pretty sure,” men’s race director Markus Waldner said with a wry smile Monday, ”that soon, we will have a race.”
The latest schedule change came Monday, when the temperature was 5 degrees (minus-15 Celsius) and the women’s giant slalom was shelved less than three hours before it was supposed to start. That followed Sunday’s postponement of the men’s downhill.
Now both of those races will be held Thursday, but on different hills, and Waldner said the weather should cooperate by then. The women will compete at the Yongpyong Alpine Center used for technical races, and the men will be about 30 miles (50 kilometers) away at the Jeongseon Alpine Center used for speed races.
The men’s super-G, originally set for Thursday, has been switched to Friday.
Waldner pointed out that he needs to figure out a way to get three men’s races – the combined, downhill and super-G – completed by Friday, because there is only one hotel right by the course, and male skiers need to move out to make way for their female counterparts, whose speed events are supposed to begin Saturday.
”Now,” Waldner said, ”it’s getting tight.”
The giant slalom would have been Shiffrin’s much-anticipated debut at these Winter Games . Instead, she will begin on Wednesday – weather permitting, of course – in the slalom, a race she has dominated for five years, and then ski again the next day. That is something to which she is accustomed: World Cup races frequently are held on consecutive days, and twice this season she went three days in a row.
Shiffrin is the defending champion in the slalom and will be trying to become the first man or woman to win that Olympic gold twice in a row; she also has claimed three consecutive world titles.
The 22-year-old American is expected to be one of the superstars of the next two weeks, considered a medal favorite in slalom and giant slalom, a strong contender in the combined and a possible entrant in the other two women’s individual races, the downhill and super-G.
For now, though, she must wait to get in a starting gate, along with all the other Alpine skiers.
”It’s a bummer that we’re not able to race today,” Shiffrin said. ”But with the training block I’ve had, I’m prepared and feeling good. I’ll use this time to continue to train and refocus on Wednesday’s slalom race. We have a great gym and space to eat and take plenty of naps, so I’ll use this time to recharge.”
It is unusual, but hardly unprecedented, for men and women to have races pushed onto the same day at a major competition because of bad weather.
Men and women shared race days at the 2006 Turin Olympics and 1998 Nagano Olympics, for example. At last year’s world championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, the two downhills were back-to-back on the same hill.
All of the shifting means that they will try to open the 11-race Alpine program Tuesday at the Jeongseon hill with the men’s combined, which adds times from one downhill run in the morning and one slalom run in the afternoon. Because wind could again present problems, Waldner said, three of the downhill’s four jumps were adjusted so skiers wouldn’t fly as high in the air.
Plus, all sorts of contingency plans have been considered. They could reduce the length of the downhill by about 20 seconds and shorten the slalom by 10 gates. Another possibility would be to delay the start of the downhill in hopes of calmer conditions and push the slalom back three hours so it would be run under the lights at 6 p.m. local time (4 a.m. ET).
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