SOCHI, Russia — Greetings from the Sochi Summer Olympics!
Temperatures soared past 60 degrees here Wednesday, the warmest day yet at a Winter Games that has felt better suited for the beach than the bobsled and has turned halfpipe ice to half-melted mush.
As afternoon curling and ice hockey got underway — in the refrigerated indoors, thankfully — the entire continental United States, save for the tip of Florida and the Desert Southwest, was colder than Sochi.
People soaked up rays outside Swiss House. A few strolled Olympic Park in shorts.
This must be what you get when you stage the Winter Olympics for the first time in a subtropical climate.
“We are sunbathing and swimming in the sea and feeling great,” said Vlad Vinogradov, who was visiting from St. Petersburg and taking a dip in the Black Sea. While he said he loved Sochi, he ventured that maybe the Ural Mountains “might be better place” for the games.
The athletes here understand the sentiment. The mild temperatures have played havoc with events being held in the so-called mountain cluster of Olympic venues, host to skiing and snowboarding.
Ski jumps have been canceled at the Gorki Jumping Center. Training runs have been scrapped at alpine skiing.
Christophe Ena / AP
Snow and brown patches are seen near the Alpine course at the Winter Olympics on Tuesday.
The problem was clearest on Tuesday night at the halfpipe, when one snowboarder after another crashed or pulled up short on tricks. The mild temperatures had turned the powder at the center of the pipe into the consistency of mashed potatoes.
For several days, snowboarders had complained that the mild weather was making the bottom of the pipe — the flat part where they gain momentum to spring up the side and turn their gravity-defying tricks — too bumpy and grainy.
It appeared to be in better shape Wednesday, even as temperatures passed 50 degrees in the mountain region, after crews treated it with salt, water and chemicals to firm it up.
“They worked wonders. We can actually do the tricks,” American Hannah Teter told the Olympic News Service after practice on Wednesday. “It’s like a hundred million times better.” In practice, she said, “It was the worst pipe I have ever ridden in my life.”
This is not the first time the Winter Games have suffered a lack of winter.
Alpine skiing was delayed at the Vancouver Games of 2010 because of mild weather, rain and fog. It was so warm there that organizers had to cancel 20,000 standing-room tickets for snowboarding when fans fell between bales of hay under melting layers of snow.
Weather also caused delays at the Winter Games in Torino in 2006, Nagano in 1998 and Sarajevo in 1984.
After Vancouver, Sochi organizers went out and got themselves an expert — Mikko Martikainen, the managing director of a Finnish company called Snow Secure, who has become known here as the Snow Whisperer.
He told NBC News by phone Wednesday that organizers have not had to dip into the reserves of snow that they stored late last fall. Instead, they have relied on snowmaking machines and crews to treat what’s already on the ground.
“We managed very well” on Wednesday, especially at the ski-jump and Nordic combined venues, he said. “Don’t worry about the snow. We are ready.”
Olympic organizers were asked at a news conference Wednesday about whether there was some way to make sure the games are held in the cold, and even whether the weather was hurting the Olympic brand. They played down the problem.
“I was at some of the events yesterday, and it doesn’t seem to me to be an issue,” said Mark Adams, a spokesman for the International Olympic Committee. “I appreciate we need a story here, but I think we are getting a little bit premature if we are talking about bad weather.”
They stressed that while the weather has been mild during the days, it is getting cold enough at night to keep the courses in shape for competition.
“The weather is absolutely gorgeous,” Aleksandra Kosterina, a spokeswoman for Sochi organizers, told reporters. “Which is, of course, challenging. But nothing we are not prepared for.”
— Sergey Karpov contributed to this report.
First published February 12 2014, 8:17 AM