Heavy snow fell throughout Sunday at the Beijing Winter Olympics disrupting several events and forcing athletes to battle through treacherous conditions in the pursuit of gold. Californian-born Chinese sensation Eileen Gu was among the competitors affected when her bid for a second gold medal was temporarily derailed by the postponement of qualifying for the freeski slopestyle. The second of three training runs for the women’s downhill skiing was cancelled and women’s freestyle skiing aerials qualification was also postponed. Environmentalists in the build-up to the Games in the Chinese capital had voiced concern about an Olympics taking place in one of the driest parts of China and relying almost entirely on man-made snow.
But on Sunday it was the opposite problem — too much snow, together with freezing fog and temperatures plunging to minus six degrees Celsius (22F) by evening.
The women’s biathlon 10km pursuit did go ahead in Zhangjiakou, outside Beijing, but Norway’s Tiril Eckhoff, who took bronze, said conditions were “very heavy”.
“There was a lot of snow and a lot of slow snow. It was a tough race and I had to work my ass off to get a medal,” she said.
Silver medallist Elvira Oeberg of Sweden said it was “one of the hardest pursuits I’ve ever raced”.
The men’s giant slalom went ahead in what competitors described as tough conditions in Yanqing, north of Beijing.
“There were moments where I didn’t really know where I was or where I was going,” bronze medallist Mathieu Faivre of France said of his first run.
“I really couldn’t see anything,” his compatriot Alexis Pinturault said. “There aren’t any trees at the edge of the course so you can’t see any landmarks.”
Asked whether the event should have gone ahead, the athletes said it had been safe.
“The snow is in good shape,” said Italian Luca De Aliprandini. “That’s why I think it’s not dangerous. In this visibility, if the snow was no good, it would be really dangerous.”
Switzerland’s Loic Meillard, who skied out in the first run, said he had raced in similar conditions before.
“It’s not the first time. But of course maybe (the course) is missing a bit some blue lines, some help to know where we go and to avoid any stupid injuries.”
In downtown Beijing, where some indoor events are taking place, snow fell consistently throughout the morning with volunteers working from dawn at some venues to keep pathways clear.
“Let’s clean the snow with Bing Dwen Dwen together!” tweeted the Beijing 2022 official account, along with a video of someone dressed as the rotund panda mascot ineffectually waving a broom across the snow-strewn floor.
Yang Shu’an, an official for the local organising committee, said that “thousands” of staff had been working from 5:00 am in Zhangjiakou, where Gu was supposed to have been competing.
“Two days ago we were able to understand accurately the time of the snow and the amount of the snow for each of the venues,” he said, adding that the snow was expected to ease up on Sunday night.
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