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7 Up: Olympic ski schedule shifted after delays

WHISTLER, British Columbia (AP) — They saw this coming.

Skiers, coaches, officials — all expected too-warm and too-wet weather at this ritzy resort. Now those very conditions have, indeed, transformed the mountain into a slushy mess, forced postponement of the first two Alpine events and scrambled the schedule less than 12 hours into the Olympics.

"All the athletes were about 90 percent sure something wasn't going to go off on time or just right," 2006 Turin Games gold medalist Ted Ligety said Saturday. "Whistler is known for having poor weather this time of year. It's something none of us was surprised by."

After deciding in the wee hours of Saturday to put off the competition-opening men's downhill slated for that morning, the International Ski Federation began shifting training runs and races, eventually devising a way to squeeze seven medal events into seven days.

That would leave another week for the other three races, and given that no Alpine event has ever been canceled altogether at a Winter Games, no one is panicking just yet. Then again, with more rain and snow on the way, and the possibility of temperatures in the mid-40s much of next week, no one is willing to guarantee the new plan will hold.

"We're still very confident that we're going to do it — get everything finished," Vancouver Alpine women's race director Atle Skaardal told The Associated Press. "You can't see into the future. I can't see into the future. So I can't give you a sure answer."

The men's downhill was pushed to Monday, originally an off day. The juggled lineup keeps the men's super-combined on Tuesday, and the women's downhill — Lindsey Vonn's signature event — on Wednesday. The already-postponed women's super-combined moves from Sunday to Thursday, another slot left open on the Olympic calendar.

The schedule then would revert to normal: men's super-G Friday, women's super-G the next day and men's giant slalom Feb. 21.

Whew.

After that, there would be two days with no racing, then the women's giant slalom on Feb. 24, the women's slalom on Feb. 26, and the men's slalom on Feb. 27 — the day before the Vancouver Games end.

"We could get be back on schedule if the weather forecast is as it says," Peter Bosinger, who oversees Alpine skiing at these Olympics, told the AP.

So far, though, a mix of snow, rain, fog and above-freezing temperatures turned sections of the Olympic slope into a mush too dangerous to be used for high-speed skiing. The top of the course isn't all that bad, actually, because it's relatively dry and packed with fresh snow. But farther down, conditions deteriorate, because that's where it's warmer and rain has been falling steadily.

"It's super-soft. You can take your pole and basically punch it all the way through the snow," Ligety said. "When you try to push off the ski, you just push in, and the ski keeps going into the snow and doesn't really release. You can't ski."

Just one of six downhill training runs for men and women was completed as planned so far. A women's practice is scheduled for Sunday but because about a foot of snow is predicted for Saturday night into Sunday morning — and Skaardal said precipitation is the biggest impediment to a good course at this point — officials and coaches are assuming that will be scrapped, too.

Only one woman, Italy's Lucia Recchia, has completed a trip down the official slope. Thursday's training run was stopped after two racers left the starting gate — Recchia made it down safely, but Stacey Cook of Mammoth, Calif., crashed — and practice was canceled altogether Friday and Saturday.

That's why the women's super-combined race had to be postponed. The event adds times from one downhill run and one slalom run, and rules require that each competitor gets at least one chance to ski the downhill course in practice before racing on it for real.

"It's all going to work out," Bosinger said. "Monday's going to be a sunny day, and everyone's going to be smiling."

Perhaps. But frowns could return Tuesday, when the forecast is for a 60 percent chance of rain or snow showers.

Weather issues are nothing new to Alpine events at the Olympics, of course — or to skiing at Whistler, for that matter.

"It's a difficult place to host ski races," Bosinger said.

Hard by the Pacific Ocean, Whistler has been known to attract weather not necessarily conducive to skiing. For three consecutive World Cup seasons in the mid-1990s, the skiing circuit failed to get a single race off at Whistler, which eventually was dropped from the calendar.

"This mountain is unbelievable," said U.S. Ski Team member Will Brandenburg, who is from Spokane, Wash., "but one thing that happens is it gets weather."

At the 2006 Turin Games, the women's super-G race was pushed back 24 hours, and the combined event was split over two days. The start of Alpine skiing at the 1998 Nagano Olympics was delayed for two days, and they wound up needing to shoehorn nine races into 10 days — even racing more than once in a single day. The men's and women's downhills were both postponed at the 1984 Sarajevo Games.

Bode Miller was among racers who did ski some free runs down the mountain Saturday, albeit not on the official course. Others passed the time by getting some extra sleep or wandering around the local village.

Vonn, meanwhile, wrote on her Facebook page that she was "sitting in my condo up here in Whistler baking some banana bread and watching the rain continue to come down." Count the two-time overall World Cup champion as someone rather pleased with all of these delays, because she keeps gaining more and more time to let her bruised right shin heal.

"My shin is feeling better and better each day," she wrote.

As things stand now, Vonn's first race won't come until Wednesday — weather permitting, naturally — instead of Sunday.

Skaardal was asked about contingency plans for more disruptions and whether there were any chance the 10 races won't be finished on time.

"This is nothing we are thinking about. This is very far out there," he said. "It's a little bit too early to maximize the crisis."

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AP Sports Writers Andrew Dampf, Graham Dunbar and Pat Graham contributed to this report.