The start of the men’s downhill races at the Beijing Olympics on Sunday was pushed to another day because of high winds, conditions that had contributed to competitors’ unease over a high-speed dash down an icy racecourse no skier has ever competed on.
The start was initially delayed until noon Sunday. Organizers subsequently pushed back the decision twice before announcing at 1 p.m. that the race was being rescheduled for another day. A new date wasn’t immediately released.
Olympic Alpine races are usually held at established courses, and on the occasions when a new, unfamiliar track is selected, there are test events and training opportunities on the course for a year or more before the Olympics are held.
But the downhill course on Xiaohaituo Mountain, in a distant suburb of Beijing, could not hold test events in the past two winters because of the pandemic. The first chance racers had to survey and practice on the course — or the racecourses for any of the nine other individual Alpine events — was a few days ago. The surface under racers’ skis will also be something new for an Olympic venue: It is made entirely of artificial snow, because the area typically receives just a few inches of natural snow.
In the first of three scheduled downhill training runs on Thursday, about a third of the racers did not negotiate all of the gates. In the second training run on Friday, racers were beginning to grasp the undulating terrain, which has several blind humps and will demand that racers reach speeds approaching 90 miles an hour. But after runs by only three racers, a third and final training run on Saturday was canceled because of high winds, which are common to the area and add another treacherous element to an event that requires racers to fly as far as 60 yards off a series of jumps.
The cancellation of the third training opportunity outraged many racers and their coaches because most competitors use their last practice attempt on the course as a trial run for the tactics and the path between the gates, known as the line. But on Saturday, race officials deemed the gusting winds unsafe, potentially a recurring, unpredictable weather condition for Alpine races at the site.
Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway, the race favorite and one of three skiers who completed Saturday’s training run, said organizers had been correct in canceling the training.
“With the wind, it’s kind of crazy, because you gain so much speed some places and then you suddenly lose speed in other places,” Kilde said. “It is coming from every direction, so it’s really hard to control it.”
Kilde, who leads this season’s World Cup downhill standings, had the fastest training run in Friday’s training session. He will be challenged by the Austrians Matthias Mayer, who won the event in 2014, and Vincent Kriechmayr, and two Swiss racers: Beat Feuz and Marco Odermatt, who is this season’s World Cup overall leader. Italy’s Dominik Paris is another racer with a strong downhill racing pedigree.
The top American contenders are Bryce Bennett, Travis Ganong and Ryan Cochran-Siegle. No American has earned a medal in the event since Bode Miller won the bronze at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.