Athletes, organizers contend with icy weather in Pyeongchang
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — When many athletes and officials woke up Wednesday, the temperature at Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium was minus-3 Fahrenheit (minus-16 Celsius). Sidewalks in the nearby mountain cluster were sparsely populated all day, save for some athletes, officials and media scurrying from building to building.
Those who did venture outside layered clothing under bulky jackets and stepped over icy mounds of old snow in sturdy boots. Olympic volunteers stationed at bus stops crowded around patio heaters, and few tourists appeared willing to brave the elements.
Competitors and spectators can’t stay inside through the entire Pyeongchang Games, though, and with the wind chill at the Olympic Stadium projected at 14 degrees (minus-10 Celsius) for the opening ceremony Friday night, there’s concern about their well-being.
In November, at least six people were treated for hypothermia after a pop concert at the open-air Olympic Stadium, and organizers are taking steps to avoid further health issues related to the cold. Attendees will be given kits with a poncho, a blanket, a beanie hat and heat packs for their seat, hands and feet, and Korea Meteorological Administration official Yoo Hee-Dong suggested via translator that “spectators need to wear their warm clothes.”
Japan pulled athletes from a team welcome ceremony Wednesday in the coastal town of Gangneung because of the cold, but most athletes don’t seem concerned with temperatures for Friday night. Americans have been told they will have a warm waiting area before marching, and many plan to leave shortly after the U.S. delegation walks — not uncommon at the Olympics.
The Americans will also be wearing battery-powered heated jackets, something that’s assuaged concerns about ill effects from a long, cold night standing outside.
“I think it will be a pretty warm outfit,” cross-country skier Sadie Bjornsen said. “Being there with the rejst of Team USA and representing your country and feeling that energy of all the sports and all the athletes coming together that have worked so hard, I’m hoping that will keep me warm.”
Biathletes in particular are concerned about the cold and wind in competition. The sport is poorly suited to extreme cold, mostly because they can’t fire their rifles if they’re wearing bulky gloves.
“Trying to shoot precision rifle marksmanship when you can’t feel your hands is fairly challenging,” said American biathlete Lowell Bailey.
The biting wind may also be a factor. American biathlete Tim Burke still thinks hitting targets will be “doable,” but says it will influence the results.
“You have to be on your toes throughout the race because the wind also changes direction, which is something you don’t deal with all the time,” he said.
The frosty weather will also affect the course for cross-country skiing, with the first event set for Saturday.
American Rosie Brennan is anticipating slower snow because of the cold and the amount of man-made snow on the track. Racers will use harder waxes on their skis to help with grip, and many will wear face masks to help with breathing.
“The biggest danger for us is our lungs because we’re breathing hard in the cold,” Brennan said. “Some of us have cold masks that kind of just create space so you can warm the air a little more as it comes in.”
Still, most of the U.S. cross-country contingent was excited about the cold, especially after the warmer Sochi Games. Ida Sargent said, “it’s nice to have it finally feel like winter,” and Minnesota-raised Jessie Diggins thinks the near-zero temperatures are “awesome.”
“I don’t feel pain the same way when it’s cold,” Diggins said. “I feel like I can keep pushing and keep pushing, because when it’s hot, I shut down. When it’s cold, I feel like I can just go forever.”
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