Environmental IssuesGlobal Warming and Climate Change

Rising temperatures add to challenges for athletes and organisers in Beijing

From dealing with freezing conditions just a few weeks ago, organisers at the Beijing Winter Paralympics are sweating over rising temperatures that have brought with them unexpected challenges for athletes.

The risk of the artificial snow melting meant that the super combined events in Alpine skiing, originally scheduled for Tuesday at the Yanqing National Alpine Skiing Centre, had to be held a day earlier.

Not only has the warm weather added to the athletes’ physical demands, it has also made it considerably difficult for them to traverse the slopes, resulting in slower times and several crashes.

“The technical event is held in the afternoon and the snow surface is starting to melt,” said China’s Liu Sitong, who won bronze in the women’s super combined sitting event on Monday.

“I think it’s good enough that everyone finished the run safely and successfully. The snow course is not ideal. We rarely ski on snow in this kind of condition. On this slope, a single mistake can affect the result noticeably.”

Matteo Fleischmann, the guide for Austrian Johannes Aigner who took silver in the super combined visually impaired class, said: “Today it was really, really warm and they put a lot of salt into the slope. It was really a big difference compared to the super-G slope.”

The artificial snow, created with the help of high-powered snow machines, was a major topic of discussion during last month’s Winter Olympics, with some athletes underling the dangers of manmade snow in the run-up to the Games.

While its use is hardly a novelty, Beijing is the first Olympic host city to employ 100% artificial snow.

The organisers said on Tuesday that they had emergency plans in place in case of extreme weather, which may include the production of more snow.

“The change in weather is a natural law and we need to respect nature,” organising committee (BOCOG) vice president Yang Shu’an told reporters.

“The snow sports competitions at the Games have been very smooth… at the same time, we have to be flexible and find solutions. Before the Games started, we made full preparations.”

Other athletes, however, have been left impressed with the conditions, especially on the slopes that have hosted the speed events at Yanqing.

Millie Knight, bronze medallist in the women’s downhill visually impaired category, said that despite the course’s steepness, it was enjoyable to race on.

“Snow is amazing, and the course is a perfect set. Fantastic features and a wonderful finish area,” the Briton told Reuters.

Her guide, Brett Wild, added it was one of the best he had competed on, while Slovak gold medallist Henrieta Farkasova said it was faster than expected.

“The course is very, very good. Fast and technical and I’ve really enjoyed it so far,” the 14-times Paralympic medallist told Reuters.


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