When eight Olympic-level competitors flame out in a spectacular series of falls, false starts and accidental diversions, you have to wonder whether it’s you, not them.
That’s what organizers must be asking themselves after the ladies’ downhill event at Whistler Creekside ended in an avalanche of gasp-inducing spills. The high rate of DNFs is raising questions about the difficulty of the course, icy conditions, and the lack of training time made available to athletes.
In the case of 20-year-old Canadian Georgia Simmerling, the crashes were so violent coaches pulled her from competition.
“RACE UPDATE Georgia DNS the ladies’ downhill due to the course being dangerous due to lack of training runs. Safe and excited for tomorrow!” read an entry on Simmerling’s Twitter page.
Organizers said they would shave down a bump at the end of the course that caused one skier to fly 60 metres before she collapsed at the bottom, and introduce other modifications to improve the run.
But they dismissed suggestions it had been unsafe during competition.
“I think it was acceptable for sure but it was very difficult,” said one International Ski Federation (FIS) official, explaining that moisture over the past few days had super-injected the surface with speed. He added: “I can’t take responsibility for every crash on the hill—it may disappoint you, but I can’t.”
Athletes described an inconsistent, bumpy course of heavy terrain and icy conditions, though some admitted they had taken risks in their pursuit of a medal. One said the women had been “spoiled” by a season of ideal conditions internationally that had left them ill-prepared for the difficult snow on the Whistler run.
“This is probably the bumpiest course that I’ve ever done,” said Lindsey Vonn, who skied through the pain on a bruised shin to win gold medal in the event; her teammate Julia Mancuso took silver, while bronze went to Austrian Elisabeth Goergl.
Poor weather conditions had scuttled training runs and competition over the past days; though FIS mandates two training runs before competition, the women had been forced to contend with one incomplete session.
Canadian skier Emily Brydon said the competition went ahead today to take advantage of the sun in a resort area—Whistler—infamous for variable weather. “You know carpe diem–carpe le solei,” she said.
Brydon, who had been an outside hope for a medal, came 16th, while fellow Canadian Britt Janyk took sixth.
“I felt like the course skied me and I didn’t ski the course,” said Bryden. “It’s probably the most exhausting female course out there. The reason we’re seeing so much carnage is we’re so tired at the end. It’s mentally tough.”
Vonn’s husband Thomas, who is also her unofficial coach, said the course had been difficult to train for because the hill’s surface varied drastically depending on the conditions.