Men’s downhill skiing at Beijing Winter Olympics postponed a day due to high winds

BEIJING — The weather wasted no time wreaking havoc with the Alpine skiing schedule at the Beijing Winter Olympics.

The men’s downhill was postponed for a day Sunday because of high winds, which add an unacceptable level of risk to a race in which skiers are already navigating jumps, turns and uneven terrain at speeds of up to 90 mph. 

The downhill will now take place Monday, between the two runs for the women’s giant slalom. The first GS run was moved up by 45 minutes, and the second run pushed back by 45 minutes. 

“We want the race to be fair. We want the best ski racer to be able to win on race day. I’m glad the organizing committee recognizes that,” said Ryan Cochran-Siegle, who would have been the 10th skier, and second American, in the downhill race.

“The wind is definitely a challenge, and I don’t think it’s going to completely go away,” Cochran-Siegle added. “But there will hopefully be a better opportunity than there was today. I can definitely respect the decision that was made.”

A video board announces that the men's downhill alpine skiing race is postponed to a later date due to weather during the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games at Yanqing Alpine Skiing Centre.

With the Olympics already running on a tight schedule, weather issues can be particularly ruinous in Alpine skiing. There are other races each of the next five days,  making it a gamble to wait for a break in the schedule later in the Games and hope there aren’t delays in other events.

The postponement of the downhill race followed the cancellation Saturday of the third and final training run, also because of high winds in the middle section of the course.

“It is always going to be windy. It’s just how this place is,” said Bryce Bennett, who would have been first on the course after drawing the No. 1 bib. “If we can do it where it’s close to as fair as possible, that’d be great. If not, it is what it is.”

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At least skiers, and organizers, have practice with this.

Four years ago at the Pyeongchang Olympics, howling winds upended most of the first week of competition. Only one of the first five races ran as scheduled, with the men’s downhill, women’s giant slalom and slalom, and the men’s super-G all having to be postponed.

The women’s Alpine combined, the last individual race, was moved up a day because more high winds were forecast.

The disruptions ended Mikaela Shiffrin’s hopes of racing all five events in 2018. She has said she hopes to do all five in Beijing – weather permitting, of course.

“The wind – ideally nobody is going to face one of the really, really big gusts where you get totally lost. You pretty much get blown off the mountain and you’re just like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ How can you imagine skiing in that, especially speed?” Shiffrin said Friday when asked about the potential for delays.

“Skiing speed, especially when you’re getting air off the terrain and then if you get a big gust when you’re in the air, it becomes not only challenging but very, very dangerous,” she added.

There is an added complication in Beijing in that both the speed and technical events are being held at the same venue. So if winds make it impossible to race on one course, it’s a good bet conditions will be similar on the other.

In Pyeongchang, the speed and technical events took place at different resorts about 30 minutes apart.

“We want to race, but it is what it is,” Cochran-Siegle said. “You can’t control the wind.”

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