Blustery conditions in Pyeongchang whip up controversy

Blustery conditions in Pyeongchang whip up controversy

By Amy Cleveland, CBC Sports

The weather in Pyeongchang, South Korea, was frightful for Olympic athletes on Day 3 of competition.

After the women's snowboard slopestyle qualification runs were cancelled on Sunday due to high winds, officials gave the go-ahead for Monday's medal competition.

It wasn't a popular decision among many of the snowboarders, who were delayed about an hour before getting blown off course — 20 of the 25 women fell on their first run, which raised questions about the event's safety.

Canadian Spencer O'Brien, who finished 22nd, made her disappointment known about the decision to allow riders to compete on a day where winds gusted up to 70 km/h in some areas (although winds were not as strong at Phoenix Snow Park).

"I'm just pretty disappointed with the organizers to make us ride in these conditions," O'Brien told CBC Sports. "When our safety [is] involved, the riders need to have a say.

"We do a really dangerous sport and this was really not a showcase of what these women can do."

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O'Brien's assessment may have been accurate, as some athletes detailed their serious — and in one case competition-ending — injuries sustained during practice.

German snowboarder Silvia Mittermüller managed a 26th-place finish despite competing on a torn meniscus. 

Australia's youngest Olympian, 17-year-old Tess Coady, may also be facing a long road to recovery after suffering an ACL injury in her practice run that prevented her from competing altogether. 

The International Ski Federation (FIS) acknowledged the challenges presented by the weather conditions, but stated that "the nature of outdoor sports also requires adapting to the elements."

"The first priority for FIS is the safety of the athletes and FIS would never stage a competition if this could not be assured," a statement said. 

"The FIS jury monitored the weather conditions closely throughout the day, including consulting with the coaches, and considered it was within the boundaries to stage the competition safely."

Some athletes managed to handle the challenge, as Canadian Laurie Blouin soared to silver with a score of 76.33.

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The weather has hindered competition elsewhere. Alpine skiing hasn't been able to get off the ground, with both the men's downhill and the women's giant slalom getting postponed to Thursday.

It doesn't appear that Pyeongchang will get a respite from the wind until then, as wind gusts are expected to reach up to 56 km/h on Wednesday. 

Reuters reported that IOC spokesperson Mark Adams said it remains too early to speculate on whether any competitions will be scrapped.

"Nagano [in 1998] held the downhill five minutes before the closing ceremony. We have reserved space so this [cancelling events] is a touch premature," Adams told Reuters.

With files from Reuters