PARK CITY, Utah — The highly anticipated first event of the Winter Olympics was reduced to an anticlimax when officials shut down the 90-meter ski jump competition before it began because of too much winter.
They didn't want a jumper sailing into the crowd in 50-mph winds.
Although the description sounds more like a parody of the event, fear of just such an occurrence kept the 60 jumpers grounded Friday morning at Utah Olympic Park. The scheduled qualification for the 90-meter event was bumped to Sunday and will be held before the final.
Could someone truly be blown so far off course?
"If he was jumping," Alan Johnson, the ski jump manager, said without a hint of a smile.
The event was expected to garner extra attention because it was the first competition of the Salt Lake City Games and the only competition scheduled on the day of the opening ceremony. Men's and women's downhill ski training at Snowbasin Ski Area also was called off because of heavy winds and snow.
Johnson said three weather stations on the Olympic Park course measured wind velocity at 50-plus mph. An acceptable breeze for ski jumping--if it's steady--is perhaps 15 mph, he said.
Blizzardlike, whiteout conditions greeted athletes, race officials and the 13,582 ticket-holders (who will be offered full refunds from the Salt Lake Olympic Committee) hours before the scheduled 9 a.m. MST start, resulting in two postponements before the cancellation.
"We were a determined lot today," said Colin Hilton, Utah Olympic Park general manager. "We were really hoping to get this off."
Johnson, who has supervised the site since it opened in 1993, said this is only the second time in nine years that the winds reached such a high velocity. By the time the competition was put off, the sun broke through, but Johnson said neither the snow itself, nor visibility, were really factors--only wind.
"We can jump at anything up to an inch-and-a-half an hour," Johnson said of snowfall rate.
The qualification round was designed to trim 10 competitors from the final and compete a mandatory round of jumping before the final. That is why the jumping had to be added to Sunday's program. Athletes were disappointed, but said holding an event in such poor conditions would have resulted in an unfair competition.
"I'm a little bummed out about it," U.S. jumper Brendan Doran of Steamboat Springs, Colo., said. "But it happens that way, and we certainly can't control the weather."
Alan Alborn of Anchorage, the top U.S. jumper, called "weather like this near impossible to jump in."
At Snowbasin, the men's downhill is scheduled to be run Sunday while the women are set to race Monday, weather permitting.
The good news at Snowbasin was that clouds cleared by late afternoon and better weather has been forecast for the next few days.
That doesn't mean there won't be Alpine postponements. Snowbasin averages 55 inches of snowfall in February, and history has shown the weather tends to get worse as the month goes on.
Last year, a weekend of World Cup racing on the Olympic downhill course was wiped out by weather.
Because of the weather, the world's best male downhill racers have made only three training runs on the Olympic course--two last year and one on Friday.
Most of the top women had a chance to test the course in competition last year in a Nor-Am race that was won by Picabo Street.
The men and women have training runs scheduled today. It would be the second for the men and the first for the women.
Times staff writer Chris Dufresne contributed to this report.