Fierce wind forces closure of Olympic Park in Gangneung
Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press
Published Wednesday, February 14, 2018 6:27AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, February 14, 2018 8:52AM EST
GANGNEUNG, Korea, Republic Of -- Sharp, gusting wind forced the temporary closure of the Olympic Park in Gangneung on Wednesday, the latest blow from wild weather that has affected the games for several days.
Sustained winds of 23 mph (37 kph) with stronger gusts howled through the Olympic Park near the coast, knocking over tents, signs and even small refrigerators. The conditions have repeatedly forced the postponement of events in the mountains to the west, notably Alpine skiing.
Local officials began evacuating Olympic Park at about 3 p.m., with public address announcements in Korean and English urging spectators to go indoors and eventually a police presence helped clear the area. Many spectators sought shelter in buildings near the Gangneung Hockey Centre. Normal activity resumed several hours later, before speedskating and hockey events were scheduled to being.
Inside the Gangneung Oval, home to long-track speedskating, Dutch oompah band Kleintje Pils had some fun with windy conditions by opening their performance with "Stormy."
There has been much discussion of the cold conditions at these Olympics, but temperatures had moderated on Wednesday -- only for the wind to cause more disruptions. Gusts topping 45 mph have forced the postponement of three of four scheduled Alpine ski races, the latest coming Wednesday as the women's slalom was pushed back until Friday. The women's biathlon at Alpensia Biathlon Center was also postponed, until Thursday.
With ski racing, the wind can make it dangerous for athletes already travelling at as much as 75 mph; in technical events, such as the slalom, wind that changes direction can be considered unfair, because some skiers will get a helpful tailwind, while others will be hurt by a headwind.
"All of them are anxious to race, absolutely, but they all want to race in fair conditions. That's the main thing," U.S. women's Alpine coach Paul Kristofic said after the slalom was called off. "To have unstable wind like that for one racer and not for the other, it creates not the best sporting event."
Gusts of more than 15 mph pushed the women's biathlon back because that much wind makes it difficult for competitors to properly handle their rifles.
Indoor sport competitions weren't affected, but conditions surrounding some of the venues were treacherous. Several venue media centres, giant tents anchored with metal beams, were closed temporarily.
AP Sports Writers Beth Harris and Teresa M. Walker in Gangneung, South Korea, and Howard Fendrich in Pyeongchang, South Korea, contributed.