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High winds derail men's downhill ski final at the Winter Olympics

A courseworker removes a gate flag following the postponement of the Men's Downhill due to high winds on day two of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at National Alpine Ski Center.
Tom Pennington
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Getty Images
A courseworker removes a gate flag following the postponement of the Men's Downhill due to high winds on day two of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at National Alpine Ski Center.

BEIJING — The men's downhill alpine ski event, the first marquee contest of the 2022 Winter Olympics, was postponed due to high winds at the Yanqing course. Olympic organizers said the competition will now be held Monday.

Race officials initially delayed the event by several hours before deciding to postpone the competition altogether.

Yanqing was built especially for the Beijing Winter Games and has never staged an international competition before this one, making the course entirely unknown to athletes. Sunday's event delay comes after skiers dealt with three consecutive days of cancellations or delays to their practice runs — leaving little time to get accommodated to the new course.

Four years ago, during the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, strong winds also wreaked havoc on the alpine schedule.

Yanqing, nicknamed "The Rock," is more than 60 miles northwest from Beijing and placed high atop the Xiaohaituo Mountain. It requires taking several buses, a train, and gondola lifts to get to the top. It's been touted by Olympics personnel as "one of the best racing mountains in the world." But designers of the course are relying entirely on man-made snow on the otherwise dry, barren mountain.

The winds have been unpredictable, Markus Waldner, a race referee, said Saturday.

"In the morning it's north, north-west, but then it's turning," he said.

A view of the course during the Men's Downhill on day two of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games. Referees decided to postpone the event on Sunday due to high winds.
Alex Pantling / Getty Images
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Getty Images
A view of the course during the men's downhill on day two of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games. Referees decided to postpone the event on Sunday due to high winds.

Following feedback from Austrian skier Matthias Mayer, Waldner said officials believed continuing Saturday's practice run would've been too risky.

Some athletes started to worry this weekend about the impact that will have on their final competition. Only three skiers were been able to test run along the track as of Saturday.

Austria's Daniel Hemetsberger said those who got out there have an unfair advantage over the others. He thinks they all should've have continued on as planned, despite the wind.

"The wind was really heavy in the middle part, but I think we had the opportunity to slow down there," he said.

He went on to say that the only dangerous part of the slope was the jump, but that the men could've safely slowed down in that area.

"We are all grown-up athletes, we are all professionals, we could do this," he said.

Waldner said he accepts the criticism. Alpine skiing being an outdoor sport, means unpredictability is part of the package, he said.

"This is force majeure," he said. "We're an outdoor sport, force majeure, and we make always decisions in terms of safety. Due to safety we made this decision, very simple."

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