Winter Olympics 2018

Winter Olympics: Brr-ing on the heat for the sub-heroes

Pyeongchang's extreme cold has led to athletes like US skier Tim Ligety trying all measures to protect themselves from the frigid conditions. Face-taping is one method, though experts say its benefits are more psychological than scientific.
Pyeongchang's extreme cold has led to athletes like US skier Tim Ligety trying all measures to protect themselves from the frigid conditions. Face-taping is one method, though experts say its benefits are more psychological than scientific.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE PHOTO: NYTIMES
Sweden's Charlotte Kalla clinches the first gold medal of the Pyeongchang Games after her victory in the women's 7.5km + 7.5km cross-country skiathlon at the Alpensia cross country ski centre.
Sweden's Charlotte Kalla clinches the first gold medal of the Pyeongchang Games after her victory in the women's 7.5km + 7.5km cross-country skiathlon at the Alpensia cross country ski centre. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE PHOTO: NYTIMES

Swede Kalla wins first gold of the Games in women's skiathlon, hosts also celebrate gold

PYEONGCHANG (South Korea) • The Americans are wearing battery-powered parkas, while the Canadians are using heated snow pants. The Norwegians brought their own hot chocolate.

Then there is the scene at the moguls skiing hill, where yoga mats - or things that look similar - are used to create a barrier between one's feet and the freezing ground.

The conditions in Pyeongchang, South Korea, are severe. Preparations have been made to postpone the men's downhill ski racing event if strong winds do not abate.

Sporting and digital equipment have proved no match for the biting cold either, with skis warped to such an extent they are being tossed out like "garbage" while cellphone and TV camera batteries are being rendered lifeless in minutes.

The Weather Channel reported that another cold snap is moving in - though it will not be as cold as last week - and will ease off only later this week.

So at this unusually chilly Winter Games - with wind chills expected to make it feel below -18 deg C - elite athletes long accustomed to the cold are trying everything to stay warm. Canada's Alpine skiers have battery-heated pants to wear during downtime on the slopes.

The extreme conditions have, however, not unduly affected preparations for Singapore's sole athlete Cheyenne Goh, who makes her Games debut on Saturday in the short-track speed skate 1,500m race. The 18-year-old is familiar with harsh winters. She moved to Leduc, Canada, where it can hit -35 deg C, when she was four.

  • Some highlights to look out for

  • NOT THE BREAK THAT MEDVEDEVA WANTED

    Evgenia Medvedeva should be one of the stars of the Games, having already been twice world champion before her 18th birthday. But, after breaking a bone in her right foot last October, the figure skater no longer seems invincible. In addition, her training partner Alina Zagitova, 15, beat her at the European championships last month – Medvedeva’s first defeat since November 2015. Who will win the rematch?

  • SUCCESS COULD FINALLY BREAK VONN JINX

    Lindsey Vonn is not only the greatest skier in US history but also one of the few global winter sport celebrities. Yet, despite winning four overall World Cup titles, injuries and bad luck have limited her Olympic medal tally to a solitary gold and bronze. At 33, this is surely her last Games. But she is favourite in the downhill and could up her tally in other events too. A gold will surely be all the more meaningful to her after she vowed on Friday to “lay it all out” at her fourth Olympics to honour her late grandfather – the inspiration behind her stellar ski career – who died in November at the age of 88.

  • GOLD RUSH BEGINS FOR GERMAN BIATHLETE

    Laura Dahlmeier, 24, could win six golds (10km pursuit, 12.5km mass start, 15km individual, 4x6km, 2x6+2x7.5km relay, with the 7.5km sprint in the bag yesterday) making her the Games’ most successful athlete. She loves climbing mountains – including two peaks over 6,000m in Nepal .

  • INNOVATIONS BREATHE NEW LIFE INTO GAMES

    The most exciting new event is Big Air – which involves competitors riding a snowboard down a steep slope, flying off a large ramp and performing various tricks. Elsewhere, speed skating has been jazzed up with the introduction of a massstart format – with 24 athletes lining up for gold. Mixed curling has also been introduced.

  • FUNDING BOBS UP UNEXPECTEDLY FOR NIGERIA

    Every Winter Olympics needs a tale to burnish the heart and it’s hard to look past Nigeria’s women’s bobsleighers this time. Three years ago Seun Adigun, who competed as a hurdler at London 2012, decided to build a wooden sled and started practising in Houston, without snow. Now she and her team-mates have a new sled thanks to a US$75,000 (S$100,178) crowdfunding campaign – and are about to became the first African bobsleigh team to compete at a Winter Olympics.

    THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Singapore chef de mission Tan Paey Fern said the team had sufficient thermal clothing and heaters at competition venues also helped.

She added: "So far so good, we're getting used to (the weather)."

Other athletes are going high-tech, while some are using home remedies.

The Tongan flag-bearer Pita Taufatofua's secret has been revealed: it was coconut oil that kept him warm when he paraded half-naked at the opening ceremony on Friday, when real-feel temperatures were down at -10 deg C.

But, while many wondered how he could march in only a traditional skirt and sandals without getting frostbite, the answer lies in the oil he had liberally applied to his torso.

"Pita secretly brought his tiny bottle of coconut oil in his pocket," Louise Waterhouse, Tonga's Honorary Consul in Sydney, told the Matangi Tonga Online website.

But the most lasting image of these Olympics may be tape face. Skiers from Slovakia and other countries are strapping sticky athletic tape across their cheeks and noses to protect their skin.

Experts say face-taping probably offers some degree of comfort during bitter weather conditions. And if the Olympians think they feel warmer, they may feel less distracted and perform slightly better.

"You're talking about really small margins, so if you've got them feeling comfortable, that's a large step in the right direction," said Mike Tipton, a professor in the Extreme Environments Laboratory at the University of Portsmouth's department of sport and exercise science.

The cold, however, was not an issue for Sweden's Charlotte Kalla as she claimed the first gold of the Games yesterday.

She won the women's skiathlon cross-country race in 40min 44.9sec, 7.8sec ahead of Marit Bjoergen, preventing the Norwegian from collecting an unprecedented third straight gold in the event.

But Bjoergen still became the most decorated woman in Winter Olympics history as she claimed her 11th medal.

Hosts South Korea claimed their first gold through short-track speed skate Lim Hyo Jun in the men's 1,500m in front of an ecstatic, near-capacity 12,000 crowd at the Gangneung Ice Arena.

In a frenetic final the 21-year-old finished in 2:10.485, seeing off Dutch world record-holder Sjinkie Knegt (2:10.555) with Semen Elistratov (2:10.687), one of the Russians competing as an independent, in third.

NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE


•Additional reporting by Nicole Chia

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 11, 2018, with the headline 'Brr-ing on the heat for the sub-heroes'. Print Edition | Subscribe