High winds risk moving men’s Olympic downhill ski race back a day

Graham Dunbar
The Associated Press
Wind blows snow across the course during men's downhill training at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Jeongseon, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. The training was delayed by 30 minutes due to high winds. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

JEONGSEON, South Korea — High winds in the weather forecast could move the Olympic men’s downhill race from its scheduled Sunday slot.

Race director Markus Waldner told team leaders a Monday lunchtime start is the favored backup plan if needed, sandwiched between two runs of the women’s giant slalom.

“This is my message: Be patient and flexible because now the next three days will be tough,” Waldner said Friday after a practice run was affected by gusts of wind.

The weather forced a shortened training run to begin 564 feet (175 meters) lower down the Jeongseon race hill. The downhill start is at 4,495 feet (1,370 meters).

Waldner said conditions Friday were “good enough for training, but not good enough for a race.”

Skiers risk being blown off a safe racing line in strong winds, which could also shut down the only gondola carrying teams and officials up the mountain.

On Monday, the women’s giant slalom is scheduled on a different course at nearby Yongpyong with runs starting at 10:15 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. locally in Korea.

The men’s downhill could start between those times, Waldner said, while cautioning that winds are forecast to continue into Tuesday. A third and final training run Saturday went off without issue, with Aspen’s Wiley Maple finishing 23rd.

As the first of 11 Alpine medal events, the glamour downhill race has options to run later in the program.

At the 2017 world championships, held in St. Moritz, Switzerland, the men’s downhill was delayed by one day and then started lower down the mountain because of fog. That meant a signature feature, the steep “Free Fall” starting section, was not used.

Racers in South Korea want to decide their shot at Olympic gold on the full 1.8-mile (2.8-kilometer) course.

“If we can have the reserve days and wait out for an optimal day, it would be ideal,” said Bryce Bennett of the United States, who was sixth-fastest Friday. “You got one shot — 1 minute, 40 seconds long.”

It took just under 1 minute, 19 seconds for Christof Innerhofer, the 2014 Sochi Olympic silver medalist, to win a practice run affected by who got the best use of tailwinds.

“It was the wind that blew me down,” said the flamboyant Italian skier who clocked the fastest speed at 71¼ mph (114.7 kph).

Innerhofer finished 0.01 second ahead of Kjetil Jansrud of Norway, the bronze medalist four years ago who is widely touted as a gold medal favorite in Pyeongchang.

“They want to do a downhill from the top and in fair conditions,” Jansrud said. “I’m thankful to hear that, because that’s the way it should be in the Olympics.”