Olympic champions Shaun White and Bode Miller are among athletes who have said they’re concerned about the warm weather at the Sochi Games, where athletes have crashed on slushy snow as temperatures are forecast to reach as high as 19 degrees Celsius (66 degrees Fahrenheit) this week.
Miller -- trying to become the oldest Olympic Alpine skiing medalist -- said his chances in his next race are falling as temperatures rise. White pulled out of the slopestyle snowboarding event and failed to win a third straight halfpipe title after falling on his first run and finishing fourth.
“Showing up with three days of practice and having the pipe in the condition it was in, I’m very happy with the choice I made,” White, a red-haired American nicknamed the “Flying Tomato”, said in an interview after he qualified for last night’s final. “I hope the pipe holds. They’re doing semifinals, which isn’t the usual thing. I’m really hoping it holds.”
Switzerland’s Iouri Podladtchikov won the gold in the halfpipe with a score of 94.75, while Japan’s Ayumu Hirano, 15, and Taku Hiraoka, 18, finished second and third. White had a top score of 90.25 in his second run, after falling and only collecting 35 points in his first.
Temperatures peaked at 7 degrees Celsius yesterday afternoon in the mountain area, making the snow softer, and athletes in Alpine sports have expressed concern that it will affect their chances. Russian officials have stockpiled snow from last season and are using treatments to try to harden the slopes.
“Now it’s a completely different race course,” Miller, a 36-year-old American who finished fastest in yesterday’s super combined downhill training run.
In the Feb. 14 super combined event, the softer snow will benefit skiers who focus on the slalom, rather than downhill competitors like him.
“It could have been a great race, but now the conditions are much easier and it will be much more difficult to put some time on,” Miller said.
There have been several high-profile crashes, although athletes haven’t blamed the snow.
Three men crashed on a downhill turn in the cross-country ski sprint final, leaving only 31-year-old Ola Vigen Hattestad and Teodor Peterson of Sweden, 25, to compete for the gold. Emil Joensson, another Swede, was able to win bronze.
Andrew Young, a British athlete who failed to reach the quarterfinals in the cross-country event, said he needed to get used to the soft snow.
“I just sink in this slush,” the 90-kilogram (200-pound) skier said. “Courses suit different people. I found this one tricky. I need to train in it and adapt my technique and do better.”
In women’s ski slopestyle, Canada’s Yuki Tsubota, 20, crashed and was carried off the course during the finals. Tsubota, who finished sixth, was doing her second run when she fell on a landing and slid down the slope. She was surrounded by Olympic staff and stewards before being taken away for treatment. She may have a broken jaw, the Toronto Star reported.
Tsubota’s teammate Dara Howell won gold, while American Devin Logan took silver. Another Canadian, Kim Lamarre, won the bronze, and said accidents are part of the sport.
“There were tough conditions and it wasn’t easy to get speed,” Lamarre told journalists. “Crashes do happen, not all the time, but we can’t always be perfect.”
International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams said the mountain cluster of events had freezing temperatures overnight, and that organizers and athletes were prepared to deal with it.
“It’s not an unusual condition,” Adams told reporters. “There’s plenty of snow, it’s just a little warm at the moment. These are dynamic, living fields of play.”
Alpine ski slope experts were recruited to firm up the snow at the halfpipe using a mixture of salt and water, and the competition will go on as planned, Jenny Wiedeke, spokeswoman for the sport, told journalists.
Miller, who is competing in his fifth Winter Games, has at least three more opportunities to add to his career medal haul of five after finishing eighth in the downhill race on Feb. 9. He clipped two gates on a slippery course in a race won by Austria’s Matthias Mayer, who was making his Olympic debut.
The American is defending champion in the super combined event. Miller also will compete in the super-giant slalom on Feb. 16, the giant slalom on Feb. 19 and possibly the slalom on Feb. 22.
Sochi isn’t the first Games to struggle with the weather. Officials in Vancouver in 2010 had to deal with temperatures that produced more rain than snow, forcing the postponement of the start of some events.
Unseasonably warm weather in Vancouver -- including the warmest January on record -- prompted organizers to move 350 dump-truck loads of snow as many as 200 kilometers (124 miles) to snowboard and freestyle skiing slopes at Cypress Mountain, north of Vancouver.
Alexandra Kosterina, spokeswoman for the Sochi organizing committee, said yesterday she was unaware of any of the snow stockpile being used so far during the games.
“If you have seen Olympics in the past, all of the organizers always had delays, always had to adjust the track depending on weather conditions,” Kosterina said. “The weather always has an impact.”
Alpine athletes in the Black Sea resort may have to get used to the snow coverage. The forecast is for sun today, with temperatures in the mountains rising to as high as 8 degrees Celsius in the ski jump area. Along the seaside, where skating events are held indoors, it could reach 66 degrees Fahrenheit in two days.
Women’s ski slopestyle silver medalist Logan said the course has slowed as temperatures have risen.
“The course feels good,” she told reporters. “It feels a little bumpy and with the slush you can get caught up a little bit, but you just have to stick with it.”