After more than a week of competition on courses lined with machine-made snow, actual snow and high winds forced the postponement or cancellation of at least three Olympic events Sunday as flurries blanketed courses and slippery roads made getting to them difficult.
Yes, the Winter Olympics can be too wintry — even in Beijing and its surroundings, a region that gets little natural snow and had seen barely a dusting of it thus far during the Games.
A steady snow that began Saturday intensified Sunday in Zhangjiakou, a city roughly 100 miles northwest of China’s capital that is host to some skiing and snowboarding events. A steady snow also fell in Beijing and Yanqing, home to sliding sports and Alpine skiing. Some of the events, including Alpine skiing and biathlon, went ahead in low-visibility conditions, with skiers dashing (and in the latter case, shooting) through the flurries.
Some athletes even appeared to thrive in it. Marte Olsbu Roeiseland won her third gold medal of the Beijing Olympics, and fourth medal overall, in the women’s biathlon 10-kilometer pursuit race. And Quentin Fillon Maillet of France won his second gold of the Games in the corresponding men’s race, the 12.5-kilometer pursuit, by hitting all 20 of his targets despite howling wind.
Matching Roeiseland, Fillon Maillet now has four medals overall — two gold, two silver — in Beijing, giving him one more than Russian cross-country skier Alexander Bolshunov, who collected his third when his team won the men’s 4×10-kilometer relay.
Snowy conditions slowed the race, especially on the classic legs, in which competitors must keep their skis straight and in tracks. Leaf blowers were used to clear the falling snow out of the ski tracks during the event, which finished more than 20 minutes slower than the winning time at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.
Other outdoor events simply took the day off. The women’s slopestyle event, in which 18-year-old Eileen Gu of China was the favorite, had its qualification round rescheduled for Monday after initially being delayed two hours; women’s aerials qualifying also was postponed. At slopestyle, workers had used shovels, brooms and blowers on the course to keep the snow from piling up on the obstacles and jumps.
The second training run in the women’s downhill was also canceled. And buses carrying Olympic visitors had to put chains on their tires.
The outdoor Olympic sites — including those for Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, the halfpipe and ski jumping — have relied on large doses of artificial snow. In many ways, organizers prefer artificial snow, because they can control it. When Mother Nature gets involved, all plans are off.
The region was expected to get 2 to 4 inches of snow by Sunday night. A blizzard warning was in effect through much of Sunday for the Chongli district in Zhangjiakou, according to the Central Meteorological Observatory. A blizzard warning was also in effect in Beijing.
Sunday was Beijing’s fifth snowfall of the winter, which is the dry season in Beijing and Zhangjiakou.
“Finally it feels like the Winter Olympics,” Chris Plys of the U.S. curling team said on Twitter on Sunday. He shared a video of the snowfall Sunday, adding the hashtag #letitsnow.
Beijing, a water-scarce city, went to great lengths to ensure that there would be enough snow to sustain its run as host of the Winter Olympics. That meant embarking on one of the most extensive snow-making operations in the history of the Games. The herculean effort included flooding a dried riverbed, diverting water from a key reservoir that supplies Beijing, and resettling hundreds of farmers and their families, who were living in what is now the competition area, in high-rise apartments.
Over the past few decades, rapid development has sapped Beijing’s groundwater. July and August often bring heavy rains, but the city and the nearby mountains get only sprinkles of precipitation in the winter.