Weather Causes Delays at Olympics
Feb. 09, 2002
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PARK CITY, Utah (AP) _ Let the games be ... delayed.
Blustery winter weather was the big winner Friday on the first day of competition at the Winter Olympics, causing the cancellation of ski jump qualifying, practice for the men's downhill and training sessions in several other events.
Wind gusts in excess of 50 mph at Utah Olympic Park wiped out qualifying for the 90-meter ski jump _ the first event of the Games _ and forced organizers to hurriedly implement backup plans after years of planning.
``Mother Nature didn't cooperate with our hopes here of starting out,'' said Clinton Hill, venue general manager at the Park, site of ski jumping, luge, bobsled and skeleton.
The qualifying round consisting of 60 jumpers will now be combined with a ``trial'' jump and held before Sunday's scheduled medal round.
A snowstorm blew through the Salt Lake City area just hours before the opening ceremony, dumping a few inches of fresh powder.
And while the storm helped clear out the hazy inversion that had shrouded the downtown area for the past few days, the inclement weather made it impossible to do much of anything in the Wasatch Mountains.
At Snowbasin, 33 miles from Salt Lake City, practice for the men's downhill, alpine skiing's elite event, was canceled. Training for women's downhill and Nordic combined never got started, either.
The men lugers in Park City got in one practice run before wind and blowing snow worsened track conditions, and the afternoon session was postponed until Saturday after several teams complained.
Things were calm on the ski hill early Friday morning, but by the time the event was set to begin at 9 a.m., there were near white-out conditions.
``In the nine years I've been here, I've only seen one other day when the winds were this high,'' said competition manager Alan Johnson. ``We actually had a few windows today for safe jumping, but it wasn't consistent. You never knew when you'd get a gust.''
Depending on its direction, the wind can either be a ski jumper's best friend or a lift ticket to the emergency room.
Johnson said Friday's winds were actually blowing in a favorable direction for the jumpers, and would have increased their distances, but the gusts made it unsafe to hold a competition.
``The problem was that it was pulsing up and down,'' he said. ``The wind has to be steady and stable.''
Sunday's weather forecast calls for sunny skies and calm winds _ ideal jumping conditions.
But that was little consolation for many of the nearly 11,000 fans who spent hours braving harsh conditions and never got to see a single jump.
After organizers announced the cancellation, fans trudged back to their cars. They will get full refunds because the event was canceled, organizers said.
``I was really disappointed,'' said shivering 17-year-old Marissa Harding while clutching an American flag. ``But it's the right decision. It's for the jumpers' safety. You wouldn't want to see anyone flying through this.''
Not that any of the jumpers were eager to try.
Two-time Olympian Brendan Doran of the U.S. would have been the first to test the elements.
``We were in our wax cabin and the roof was shaking,'' Doran said. ``It's better that we didn't find out what would have happened on the jumps.''
Before being informed that the event was canceled, thousands of fans at the base of the ski jump hill waited out the delay by huddling together like penguins in the Antarctic, bracing themselves against the teeth-chattering winds.
Most didn't seem to mind. While keeping an eye on the giant scoreboard for any updates, they were entertained by mascots, jugglers and each other.
Stuart Blain of Richmond, Va., and his family spread out a large blanket and settled in as loudspeakers blared Steppenwolf's ``Born to Be Wild'' and workers groomed the jumping hill.
``We got up at 4:15 this morning to get here and we were kind of bummed out when they said it would be delayed,'' Blain said as he fed hot soup to his son, Mac. ``But when the announcer said that the athletes had trained for years to be here, it really put it in perspective.
``It was still great to come out here and get to see the venue and all the people,'' he said.
Then, looking up at the mountain, he thought about what he had missed.
``You know,'' he said. ``It would have been pretty cool.''