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Posted on: Saturday, February 13, 2010

Winter Olympics: Downhill postponed; Alpine schedule up in air


HOWARD FENDRICH
AP Sports Writer

WHISTLER, British Columbia The Vancouver Olympics are only hours old, and already the first two races on the Alpine skiing schedule have been postponed because of warm, wet weather that's turned the slopes to mush.

The competition-opening men's downhill was called off in the wee hours of Saturday morning, about 7 hours before its scheduled 11:45 a.m. PST start.

The women's super-combined event, originally planned for Sunday, had been postponed Friday afternoon.

Neither race has been rescheduled. And with only one of six downhill training runs for men and women completed as planned so far, there are plenty of questions about how the sport will unfold at these Winter Games.

When will the women finally get to train? When will the nearly constant rain ease? When will the thick fog clear? When will the temperature drop to winterlike levels? When will the soft, unsafe snow be ready for racing?

On and on it goes.

Repeated snow, rain, fog and too-warm temperatures in the 40s have created slopes that are too dangerous to be used for high-speed skiing. The International Ski Federation said early Saturday that snow and rain throughout the night, along with expected mild temperatures, made for poor skiing conditions.

The forecast for the weekend called for a mix of rain, sleet and snow.

"It's an outdoor sport, and there's always uncertainty," Peter Bosinger, who oversees Alpine skiing at the Vancouver Olympics, said Friday, before the downhill was scratched. "We can't predict the weather and we can't make changes to the schedule until we see where the opportunities to reschedule are."

The next men's team captains' meeting was scheduled for Sunday evening, probably meaning the downhill will not be raced that day, because events generally are not held without going over plans the night before. Instead, officials likely will try to get women's training in Sunday, and push the men's downhill to Monday, at the earliest.

At least there are days sprinkled through the schedule with no races on tap, allowing for changes along the way. That's done by design, because weather problems are nothing new to Alpine events at the Olympics or to skiing in general.

At the 2006 Turin Games, for example, the women's super-G race was pushed back 24 hours, and the combined event was split over two days. The start of Alpine skiing at the 1998 Nagano Olympics was delayed for two days, while the men's and women's downhills were both postponed at the 1984 Sarajevo Games.

Vancouver Alpine women's race director Atle Skaardal made the case Friday that it would be unrealistic to expect to carry out the program on schedule at Whistler.

"Everyone knows it's a very challenging site for Alpine skiing, because of this climate," Skaardal said. "But we still have a lot of time, and we are very positive about the coming days."

Still, if the area doesn't get colder, the snow on the mountain won't be hard enough for competition.

Men's and women's training runs were scrapped Friday. The women were given a chance to inspect the course, and they came away unimpressed.

"It's definitely not in raceable condition," U.S. skier Lindsey Vonn said.

Bosinger indicated Friday that a postponed men's downhill might not be rescheduled for Sunday, because organizers would want to make sure the women get a chance to train.

"There's still time," he said. "We're still in the early phases of the games."

So far just one woman, Italy's Lucia Recchia, has had the chance to complete a trip down the official slope. Thursday's training run was stopped after two racers left the starting gate Recchia made it down safely, but Stacey Cook of the United States crashed and practice was canceled altogether for Friday and Saturday.

That's why the super-combined race had to be postponed: The event combines times from one downhill run and one slalom run, and rules require that each competitor gets at least one chance to ski the downhill course in practice before racing on it for real.

The weather is supposed to improve next week. In the meantime, several skiers insisted they were trying not to focus on all of the shifting plans.

"If you get frustrated now, then you will lose," said defending women's Olympic slalom champion Anja Paerson of Sweden. "We're having a good time, doing some free skiing, getting the hours going. We will race, but it depends on which day. We're just trying to prepare and not think too much."

At least one racer was thrilled with all of the disarray: Vonn, the two-time overall World Cup champion dealing with a badly bruised right shin.

The way she sees it, every delay translate to more time for her to heal and rest.

"I'm lucking out pretty heavily because of all the cancellations," the American said. "Normally I would be disappointed. But for my shin, I think, this is the best possible scenario."

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AP Sports Writers Andrew Dampf, Graham Dunbar and Pat Graham contributed to this report.