Winter Olympics in Sochi are offering summer temperatures, challenging conditions

There are plenty of Olympic Games during which it would be no big deal to walk a few blocks from the teeming sporting venues and find dozens of locals sunning themselves on the beach, or a man taking a lazy dip in the sea. Those however, are typically of the Summer Olympics.

On Monday, that sun-splashed scene occurred on the shores of the Black Sea, a hard slap shot from the gleaming arenas of the 2014 Winter Games, where organizers were finding it challenging to keep the ice from melting. And it occurred perhaps 40 miles from the Sochi Games’ “mountain cluster,” where the warm weather forced organizers of the skiing events to cancel some training runs and shift others from day to night.

Through four days of competition, the 2014 Sochi Games are on track to be the warmest Winter Olympics in history, which actually is no surprise.

Though most of Russia is famously cold — Moscow barely got above 30 degrees on Monday — Sochi, a resort town in the far southwestern corner of the country where Joseph Stalin had a beach home, happens to possess a subtropical climate, with average February temperatures of around 50. Its climate is described in the official International Olympic Committee report as “moist and warm in the coastal cluster, moist and moderately warm in the mountain cluster.”

But even that description doesn’t do justice to Monday’s weather along the coast, where — brace yourselves, Washingtonians — the high reached 61 degrees, which for comparison’s sake, was warmer than Monday’s forecast highs for Atlanta, Austin, Birmingham, Ala., and Myrtle Beach, S.C. After a brief cool-down Tuesday, with a forecasted high of 51, temperatures could be back in the low 60s Thursday.

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The warm weather is having real consequences for the competition. Several biathletes in the men’s 12.5-kilometer pursuit event fell while skiing the softened course. Jean-Philippe le Guellec of Canada was leading the race when he crashed, breaking one of his skis. He dropped out of medal contention while waiting for a replacement and finished 26th.

“Honestly, I want to punch a wall and hopefully break through it,” he told the Associated Press.

A training session for the downhill portion of the men’s super-combined Alpine skiing event that had been scheduled for Tuesday morning was postponed for two days. At the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center in the mountain cluster, sun-softened snow in the landing area forced organizers to cancel the first of three daytime jumps for Nordic combined competitors Monday. A second jump was postponed after the first competitor fell while landing. Gold medal favorite Eric Frenzel of Germany was among those who chose not to make any practice jumps Monday, according to the Associated Press.

“It’s not even slushy — it’s mushy and it’s very hard to ski on,” American Bill Demong told reporters. “There’s no structure to the snow, and the person who can float the best wins.”

At the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, Austrian moguls skier Dale Begg-Smith also complained of soft snow, saying: “I wasn’t feeling it. . . . The course is a little too warm.”

At the Sanki Sliding Center, also in the mountain cluster, luger Lukas Broz of the Czech Republic said flatly: “The weather is bad. It needs to be colder [because] we don’t have the right blades for this weather.”

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It isn’t unusual for host cities to be required to manufacture snow when Mother Nature doesn’t do her part. In Vancouver in 2010, for example, organizers had to airlift snow to portions of the ski areas. Here in Sochi, they gathered 710,000 cubic meters of snow over the years leading up to the Games and stored it in insulated silos. In addition, officials have hundreds of snow guns at their disposal to generate and deliver snow where it is needed.

“The weather, we cannot predict,” said Mikko Martikainen, a Finnish “snow specialist” who is working with the Sochi Games organizing committee to monitor and tweak snow conditions. “It’s an enemy you have to take as a friend.”

Even at the indoor facilities of the coastal cluster, keeping the ice from turning slushy was proving a challenge. At the Iceberg Skating Palace on Monday, water pooled in spots on the ice during heats of the short-track speedskating events, and at one point, an arena worker used a fire extinguisher to shore up a particularly slushy spot.

Monday’s weather was best enjoyed by non-competitors, and by competitors who had finished their day’s work. It was a day when heavy jackets were slung over arms and shirt sleeves were rolled to the elbows as people walked around the Olympic Park, a day when the mind turned to lazier, more tropical pursuits.

“I [feel like having] a margarita, chips and salsa,” said American Todd Lodwick, a Nordic combined skier. “But that will have to wait until after competition.”

Natasha Abbakumova, Rick Maese and Barry Svrluga contributed to this report.

Dave Sheinin has been covering baseball and writing features and enterprise stories for The Washington Post since 1999.
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