Olympic athletes have one more thing to highlight: the weather

Mikaela Shiffrin describes herself as “super controlling of everything that happens in my life”, so the two-time Olympic gold medalist doesn’t really like a particular aspect of her choice. sports, downhill skiing.

“Time,” she said, “can literally change everything.”

The 26-year-old from Colorado is due to open her Beijing Olympics on February 7 as defending giant slalom champion. A key word there is “planned”, because, as Shiffrin experienced at the Pyeongchang Games in 2018, nothing is certain when it comes to the vagaries of various elements such as temperature, wind, light sunshine or precipitation.

In outdoor events, all of these factors can, and quite often do, alter the competition and the competitors themselves..

“”On a more macro level, it takes a lot of mental effort to be ready to go out and compete in an Olympic event and when…that doesn’t happen…it’s, for sure, stressful and takes energy from this level. It’s different from any other sport, in that sense, isn’t it?

“There just aren’t many sports that are affected and exposed by the weather, both to affect the outcome of a race and to affect the outcome of an event,” said Mike Day, the Shiffrin’s lead coach with the US Ski Team. “It will have a big impact and has had a big impact in the past.”

Olympians say the weather could change their preparation and mindset ahead of a contest. Once the contest starts, it could hurt – or, that’s also true, help – their outcome. All of which turns this into another source of stress at a one-day-every-four-year-old show already full of them.

“It’s probably 90% of what we think,” said Keely Cashman, a 22-year-old alpine skier from California heading to her first Olympics.

Snowfall is not expected for the mountainous region of Yanqing during these Olympic Games. A strong wind is expected.

Something else to deal with is how light, and therefore visibility, changes as the sun moves across the sky over the course of a day, creating shadows that appear and recede. In an event like the downhill, where speeds can exceed 80 mph (130 km/h), being able to capture the nuances along the course is vital.

“You have to see everything on the track,” said Vincent Kriechmayr, a 30-year-old Austrian who won two gold medals at the 2021 Alpine World Championships. is it coming (towards) my skis?’ … When you see the slope, you can push.

As it is, the snow quality tends to deteriorate as more and more runners descend a slope.

It is generally considered best to go earlier to avoid the ruts and bumps that develop. But if a headwind gives way to a tailwind, for example, or if a cloudy day turns clear and snow crystals move, then the benefits can too.

“It’s rare to have days where it’s regular. You have them, but they’re rare,” said Bryce Bennett, a member of the US Ski Team, who won a downhill World Cup in Val Gardena, Italy, in December. “The variables make it interesting. When you’re on the right side of the variables, you get excited. When you’re on the wrong side, you’re (angry).

In action sports – think X Games – the weather can almost individually dictate the outcome.

A slate sky can dampen the contrast between the background and the halfpipe for jumping snowboarders, making it difficult for snowboarders to choose landing spots. Wind can slow athletes down as they try to gain speed to perform tricks with 1440 degrees – or more – of spin. Shifting winds are most dangerous on the slopestyle course, where jumps can reach 80 feet, as riders cannot properly calibrate the speed needed to execute tricks.

“I feel like you’d be crazy if you weren’t worried about this stuff,” said freestyle halfpipe skier Carly Margulies, 24, from California. “But at the end of the day, you just kind of have to push that away (from the mind).”

It’s a common feeling.

“I’m not God, so there’s nothing I can do about it. You have to (accept) the situation and just focus on yourself, focus on the skiing you can do, focus on the technique and the energy,” said reigning Coupe du Nord champion Alexis Pinturault. world of alpine skiing and triple Olympic. medalist for France. “Of course it makes a difference – and we know that.”

What kind of difference can the weather make on the clock in alpine skiing?

Up to a second, believes Pinturault.

It is important. The gap between gold and silver was just 13 hundredths of a second in half of the 10 women’s or men’s races at the 2018 Games.

Four years ago, Shiffrin wanted to compete in five individual events in South Korea.

High winds led to postponements, prompting him to abandon two races.

“You only have a limited number of weather days built into the calendar,” said Shiffrin, who again plans to compete in slalom, giant slalom, downhill, super-G and alpine combined. “At the end of the day, you can do every move right. You can be rested and ready to go hard. And it can still be totally messed up for, basically, reasons that are completely out of your control. I don’t really like that idea.


AP National Writer Eddie Pells contributed to this report.


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