x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Problems plague Winter Olympics

Problems pile up for organisers with the men's skiing downhill postponed and violent protests in Vancouver.

Shannon Bahrke of the USA during her final run in women's moguls.
Shannon Bahrke of the USA during her final run in women's moguls.

The first gold medals of the troubled Winter Olympics were won yesterday but problems piled up for organisers with the men's skiing downhill postponed and violent protests in Vancouver. Luge training went ahead despite the horrific death on Friday of Georgia's Nodar Kumaritashvili, with the mood sombre at the Whistler Sliding Centre where modifications were made to the track to prevent another tragedy.

A day after a dazzling ceremony opened the Games, the first gold was claimed by Switzerland's Simon Ammann, who won the normal hill ski jump ahead of Poland's Adam Malysz and Austria's Gregor Schlierenzauer. Dutchman Sven Kramer took out the 5,000m men's speedskating title, finally capturing a medal that eluded him four years ago at Turin. He won in 6 mins 14.60 sec, setting an Olympic record to defeat South Korean Lee Seung-Hoon by 2.35 sec with Russian Ivan Skobrev third.

Canada had high hopes that Jennifer Heil could deliver their maiden gold of the Games in the women's moguls freestyle skiing, but she was pipped at the post by the United States' Hannah Kearney with another American, Shannon Bahrke, third. Meanwhile, there was disaster on the ice for South Korea which was looking at a cleansweep in the men's 1,500m short-track speed skating before Sung Si-Bak and Lee Ho-Suk collided and crashed on the last turn.

Their teammate Lee Jung-Su took the title, with American Apollo Anton Ohno second to become the most decorated Olympic short-track skater with six medals. America's J R Celski finished third. Slovakia's Anastasiya Kuzmina was a shock winner in the women's 7.5 kilometre biathlon sprint. While those events took place, the unpredictable weather that has haunted organisers forced the blue-riband downhill, a medal event, to be put back until tomorrow.

The International Ski Federation said overnight snow and rain in the Whistler mountains followed by mild temperatures meant that skiing on the piste was out of the question. "The piste has been badly affected these last two days by the mild temperatures and the humid conditions with snow and rain," said the FIS race director Gunter Hujara. The women's super-combined, which had been scheduled for today, was postponed until Thursday, with practice runs not possible.

Problem-plagued Cypress Mountain also suffered more setbacks when work at the snowboard cross course caused training to be cancelled. Cypress, to the north of Vancouver, has been badly affected by unseasonal, warm temperatures which prompted a round-the-clock operation to bring in snow from higher elevations to make the venue ready. Luge training took place after investigations concluded there was no indication the death of Kumaritashvili was caused by track deficiencies.

However, the men are now racing lower down from the women's start, which should see a speed reduction, while the walls were raised at the scene of the accident, where the Georgian flew off the track and smashed into a metal pillar. FIL president Josef Fendt faced down claims that the track could cause more deaths. "We did not expect these kinds of speeds on this track, but we have seen that the track has been safe," he said.

In Vancouver, around 100 masked anti-Olympic protesters clashed with riot police, smashing windows, kicking cars and throwing objects. At least two officers were injured and seven demonstrators arrested. Police blamed "a loosely organised group of thugs from central Canada known to attach themselves to any cause, travel to any event that attracts media coverage and promote anarchy wherever they go".

The violence followed small-scale protests yesterday. * AFP