Wind Knocks Down Skier, Postpones Downhill


February 17, 2006

SAN SICARIO, Italy (AP by Bob Baum)—Wind gusting so hard that it smacked the first skier to the snow forced the postponement Friday of the downhill portion of the Olympic women's combined event.

The wind caught the skis of Nika Fleiss on the course's first jump, sending her skidding on her back.

"I had no control over what was happening. It was really dangerous, Fleiss said. "I'm glad I'm alive and not injured.

Fleiss scrambled to her feet and skied down, but minutes after she finished race officials huddled and announced the postponement, later saying the downhill would be run Saturday afternoon.

The second part of the race, two slalom legs in the evening, was scheduled to go off as planned on a different mountain in the nearby town of Sestriere.

The combined gold medal goes to the skier with the fastest total time in the one downhill and two slalom runs.

The same storm that carried the winds also scattered four inches of fresh snow across the course, forcing an hour-plus postponement of the race's start. But while blue skies shone as Fleiss started the wind persisted, and Fleiss' fall was enough evidence for race referee Atle Skaardal and the other officials that conditions were not right.[pagebreak]"It's just too dangerous for the competitors, said Sarah Lewis, secretary general of the International Ski Federation.

As well as being unsafe, the gusts could have made the competition unfair _ while wind might have been a factor for some skiers, it might have subsided for others.

"It should be the same for everybody and that's not the case, U.S. women's coach Patrick Riml said.

The winds were worst high on the mountain, forcing the shutdown of the gondola that carries skiers between San Sicario and Sestriere.

Flipping the order of an Olympic combined to the slalom before the downhill happened once before, in the men's event at the storm-tossed 1998 Nagano Games.

The field for the combined could be more competitive than it was for Wednesday's downhill.

Defending Olympic champion Janica Kostelic of Croatia was feeling well enough to compete, following an illness that kept her out of the downhill. And American Lindsey Kildow, who raced the downhill in pain following a bad crash in training, had more time to recover.

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press