High Winds Have Injured 16 People So Far At The 2018 Winter Olympics
High winds in PyeongChang have been delaying events and affecting athletes and spectators alike for days now, but on Feb. 15, organizers for the 2018 Olympics reported that 16 people have been treated for "scrapes and light injuries caused by high winds whipping through some venues," according to the Associated Press. Organizing committee spokesman Sung Baik-you told the Associated Press that those injured included 13 staff members and three spectators. All of them were injured Feb. 14, and all of them were released from medical care.
The winds also damaged 60 temporary tents, as well as signs and fences, mostly in the Olympic Park area in Gangneung, "which is on the coast and is the base for ice hockey and other ice sports," Sung added.
According to the Associated Press, the wind finally subsided the morning of Feb. 15, giving way to "clear skies, light winds and above-freezing temperatures across most of the [Olympic] venues," but the winds certainly did their damage before dying down. Along with the reported injuries and damage to Olympic Park, the winds, which NPR reported reached 50 miles per hour, "led the local government to issue emergency alerts on the Korean mobile phone network warning of fire dangers and flying debris — and asking people to secure any outdoor equipment or furniture," according to NPR.
Winds also delayed three of four alpine ski races on the docket, the Toronto Star reported, including women's slalom, which is now scheduled to take place Feb. 16. Strong winds can have significant effects on ski events, because not only can the wind be dangerous to athletes moving at high speeds, but "in technical events, such as the slalom, wind that changes direction can be considered unfair, because some skiers will get a helpful tailwind, while others will be hurt by a headwind," the Toronto Star reported.
After the women's slalom was postponed, U.S. women's alpine coach Paul Kristofic told the Toronto Star, "All of them are anxious to race, absolutely, but they all want to race in fair conditions. That's the main thing. To have unstable wind like that for one racer and not for the other, it creates not the best sporting event."
As for why, exactly, the winds are so harsh at the 2018 Olympics, the Washington Post reported that it's a badly time convergence of "meteorology and geography." The wind that has been troubling the Olympics "originates from a feature known as the Siberian High," a high-pressure zone where "the air circulates clockwise [...] and the Taebaek Mountains intercept the flow blasting in from the northwest."
Since PyeongChang is in the Taebaek Mountains, the city is taking the full brunt of the winds. And since ski events tend to be located on the sides of mountains, "they receive the most extreme conditions," according to the Washington Post.
Though the winds have relented for now, the Washington Post reported that windy conditions are likely to surge again in the coming week.
Mark Adams, a spokesman for the International Olympic Committee, told USA TODAY Feb. 14 that officials don't think the current postponements will dramatically affect the Olympics' overall schedule. "I guess if the wind blows for the next (11) days it might be a problem," he said. "At present, everything is okay. The ski federation is well used to disruption by wind, by too much snow, by too little snow, by too much rain, by all sorts of things."
Olympic events are scheduled through Feb. 25, when athletes in the final events, bobsled, cross-country, curling, and hockey, will go for gold. As Olympic staff members, who have now faced down wind injuries as well as an outbreak of norovirus, they've already more than earned gold medals of their own.