Olympics-Snow blankets Games, delays Gu’s return to competition

Freestyle Skiing - Men's and Women's Freeski Slopestyle Training
2022 Beijing Olympics – Freestyle Skiing – Men’s and Women’s Freeski Slopestyle Training – Genting Snow Park, Zhangjiakou, China – February 12, 2022. Gu Ailing Eileen of China in action. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

February 13, 2022

By Winni Zhou and Simon Evans

ZHANGJIAKOU, China (Reuters) -Heavy snowfall blanketed northern China on Sunday, bringing a wintry atmosphere to the Beijing Olympics and disrupting several events, including home team favourite Eileen Gu’s qualifying run in the freeski slopestyle.

The first competition for the San Francisco-born Gu since she won Big Air gold for China on Tuesday had been hotly anticipated, and the postponement of the qualifiers until Monday was the top trending topic on Chinese social media.

The men’s giant slalom at Yanqing went ahead despite reduced visibility due to driving snow, with start intervals for the first group of racers lowered to one minute, 45 seconds, from two minutes. However, organisers delayed the start of the second run by one hour and 15 minutes.

The second training session for the women’s downhill race at the same venue was cancelled.

Yang Shu’an, vice president of the Beijing organising committee, said the storm had left too much loose snow on the freestyle course at Genting Snow Park in Zhangjiakou, about 200 km (125 miles) northwest of the capital, for Sunday’s competition to take place as scheduled.

“In order to ensure the safety of athletes, we decided to postpone the events,” Yang told a news conference.

U.S. snowboarder Hailey Langland said visibility was a challenge.

“It makes it really hard to differentiate where you’re going to land, or when,” she told Reuters after a training session at the Shougang Big Air venue in Beijing.

At the men’s giant slalom in Yanqing, the early skiers expressed support for the decision to go ahead with the race.

“Definitely, the light is more than skiable, it just makes it difficult. I like it,” Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen said after his first run.

“The snow is a little uneven so it is quite aggressive in spots … a little slick … I think it was difficult for everyone.”

Weather forecasters issued a blizzard warning for Sunday, forecasting significant snowfall for large parts of northern China including Beijing.

“You can’t see much, you don’t know where to put your feet,” France’s Mathieu Faivre said after his giant slalom run.

“But luckily the surface is quite icy, quite regular from start to finish, so I succeeded in producing a pretty good first run.”

One beneficiary of Sunday’s snow was Paralympics mascot Shuey Rhon Rhon, who resembles a red Chinese lantern capped with snow and has been eclipsed by the immense popularity of Olympics mascot Bing Dwen Dwen, an icy-suited panda.

“It’s snowing. Shuey Rhon Rhon finally becomes the main character,” one user wrote on the Weibo social media platform.

(Reporting by Winni Zhou in Zhangjiakou, Simon Evans in Yanqing, and Muyu Xu, Krystal Hu and Martin Pollard in Beijing;Writing by Tony Munroe; Editing by Peter Rutherford, Robert Birsel)

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