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Storm Forces a Delay in Men's Downhill

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 8, 1998; Page D1

 A gatekeeper signals the close of the men's downhill course at Happo'one.
(Luca Bruno/AP)
HAKUBA, Japan, Feb. 8 (Sunday) — An hour before the scheduled start of the Olympic men's downhill, portentous clouds assembled over the Happo'one course. Minutes before race time, a light snowfall began, impairing visibility and forcing a delay of the race's start. Within 90 minutes, fog obscured the top of the mountain and forced a postponement of the event, which was expected to be rescheduled for Tuesday morning (Monday night EST).

The men's downhill is traditionally the first big medal event of the Olympic Games. After three consecutive days of sunny weather for training on Happo'one, today's snowstorm proved a rude and early interruption to the first full day of Olympic competition.

The race was called more for the incoming fog than for the snowfall, U.S. skiing spokesman Tom Kelly said. Moments before the race, the skiers apparently were optimistic the race would go off, but the rapidly declining conditions ruined hopes.

"I am very disappointed," said U.S. skier Jason Rosener, 22, who is competing in his first Olympics. "It's easier for some of the older guys because they have been around a lot longer. For me, it's my first Olympics and I was ready to go."

The international coaches were told that the race would be rescheduled for Tuesday, bumping the combined downhill to another time, possibly Wednesday when the men's combined slalom takes place. There was no official announcement early today, however.

If weather conditions force another postponement, a training run will have to be scheduled before the race can be held. International rules require a training run within 48 hours of the competition.

Italy's Luca Cattaneo was scheduled to be first of the 44 competitors, followed by Norway's Lasse Kjus, Austria's Hannes Trinkl and France's Jean-Luc Cretier. The racers' start positions are partially a function of their World Cup standings. The top 15 World Cup performers are put in a lottery for the first 15 positions.

No U.S. skier had a strong enough downhill ranking to merit a top 15 placement; all were in the second lottery. Kyle Rasmussen drew the highest start position at No. 17. He was followed by Rosener (21), '94 gold medalist Tommy Moe (25) and AJ Kitt (28).

U.S. Coach Bill Egan said the delay should benefit Rasmussen, who has been bothered by a nagging back injury. The back forced him to skip Saturday's training run.

Former U.S. downhiller Hilary Lindh, who retired soon after winning the world championship last year, said a delay of a day or two could severely impair the favored racers.

"Some people are ready to race today," said Lindh, who was at the race doing television work for TNT. "Maybe it's their window of opportunity. If they don't hit it right, they may not be at their peak like they were. If you are ready to go, it's really difficult to get to that point again."

The finish area stands were packed with animated fans well before the planned start, including friends of Moe who waved a "Go, go, Tommy Moe!" sign. Many fans remained for the entirety of the delay. U.S. alpine director Bill Marolt wiped a snowflake off his glasses moments before the race's cancellation. "You want to come out and have a good start," Marolt said. "As they say in football, you want to have a good first quarter. But this is not unusual. It happens all the time on the World Cup."

The weather forecasts here are calling for miserable conditions for the next two days.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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