PARK CITY, Utah -- Spectators, 14,000 strong, endured shuttle bus delays, shivered through security lines, then walked one mile uphill in driving snow Friday morning only to see the first competitive event cancelled at the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Ski jump qualifications on the short hill that were to begin in early morning went through a series of delays because of a snowstorm and high winds at Utah Olympic Park. By late morning, officials called things off when wind conditions did not improve.
The gusts were 60 miles per hour in places along Utah Olympic Park, the site for bobsled and luge as well as jumping. The luge training continued, but it was too dangerous for jumpers.
"In the nine years I've been associated with this venue, I've never seen winds this high," said Alan Robinson, ski jump coordinator for the United States team.
"They say when the wind is from the south, it's OK," said Jeff Hodges, media coordinator at Olympic Park. "If it's from the west, the mountains can cut off a lot of it. If it's from the north, it's bad and if it's from the east, it's not good. This morning, it was from the northeast, which is the worst-case scenario."
Along the bleachers and spectator areas along the landing run, visitors threw shawls over their faces, huddled together and bundled up in heavy blankets, many of them with the American flag design.
In Utah, where caffeine is a no-no is many circles, the line for coffee and hot chocolate stretched for a city block.
Spectators, although chilled, still seemed thrilled that the Games had finally arrived. While shivering behind whatever fence or shelter they could find, they didn't seem too disappointed by the delays and the final cancellation. They will receive a refund of their tickets.
"It's very fine; this is typical weather for this area this time of year," said Terry Hoagland of Salt Lake City. "I've been waiting seven years to see this, I can wait a little longer. I'm OK. I know how to dress for winter.
"But these people out here wearing tennis shoes are crazy." Once spectators reached a satellite parking lot, they were shuttled to a security area. Once through the tents, they faced a mile hike up a steep grade with a strong crosswind pelting snow into their faces. There was a rest station halfway up the hill where several people had to take a break.
Shawls, full-faced ski masks and other faced coverings were essential. The cold wind, mixed with snow, had that icy edge that could cut away any false spirit. The gusts were so strong they sometimes pushed walkers back in a wind-tunnel effect. Once up the hill to the jumping venue, fans flocked to the concessions where coffee (fully loaded and de-caf) and hot chocolate sales were soaring.
Mike Romine of nearby Park City, Utah, was smiling. He had moved to the area six months ago from Hawaii just for the Olympic experience.
"It's cold and there are gonna be waits," he said. "It's Utah and these are the Winter Olympics after all. They will be going on for three weeks. We've got nothing but time.
"I moved here because I love to ski and I love cold weather," added Harry Glade of Salt Lake City, one of an estimated 25,000 Olympic volunteers. He stood calmly beside the bleachers, waiting to escort an 82-year-old former International Olympic Committee official from Ireland who he's hosting this week.
"He's got arthritis and he's not liking these Winter Olympics too much," Glade said. "But these kind of things are going to happen, particularly when you're dealing with weather and the weather is going to change here.
"Look at how those flags are blowing in the wind. That's too much of a danger to ski jumpers. You can't jump in this. We've got three weeks; they'll be a lot of events."
Some people were even pleased that the area received a slight snowstorm. For most of the past week, the valleys have been plagued with what some locals call "that dratted inversion."
That means that warm, moist air at lower elevations is held there by colder air aloft. It creates a yukky fog. Visitors were disappointed they have not been able to see the mountains from the valleys around Salt Lake.
"Actually, warmer temperatures, no wind, stable conditions are ideal for ski jumping," Robinson said. "We've had them for five days, then we try to start and it changes. We were a determined lot but there was no way today."
"It takes a storm to blow this inversion stuff away and get rid of it," Hoagland said. "The mountains will be just beautiful now. Tonight should be absolutely gorgeous, a perfect setting for the Opening Ceremonies."
(David McCollum, sports columnist for the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway, Ark., is part of the Morris News Service team covering the Winter Olympics).
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