Weather forces Olympic organizers to get creative

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By Alan Baldwin

WHISTLER (Reuters) - Olympic downhill organizers will run men's and women's training in parallel on the same hill and at the same time Thursday in an unprecedented attempt to beat the Whistler weather.

Wednesday's men's first training had to be abandoned after fog shrouded the Dave Murray piste after 42 of the 87 racers had completed their runs, meaning it did not count as an official session.

The showcase race is due to open the Alpine program on Saturday but skiers must have completed one training run before than can happen.

The women use the Franz's run piste, which starts apart from the men's and descends parallel to it before merging near the finish, and have a super-combined downhill scheduled for Sunday.

Organizers said the men would use a shortened run so that they stopped higher up the hill, with no risk of running into the women. Both sessions will begin at 0930 local (1730 GMT).

"It's no problem, it's two completely separate slopes," women's race director Atle Skaardal, a former men's super-G world champion for Norway, told Reuters.

"They don't touch each other. The men's will stop at the fourth intermediate time and we go all the way down."

Men's race director Guenther Hujara told reporters after a team captains' meeting near the Creekside venue that organizers had been forced to get creative by the weather forecast.

He said the original plans, drawn up years ago, were for separate finishes and paddocks to enable the men and women to train simultaneously but that idea was ruled out by the International Olympic Committee.

"That drives us into a situation where we have the higher finish now tomorrow for the men because we have to give priority to the ladies," he added. "They have the first chance.

"With the weather pattern we have right now, we know there are only small windows and we have to use them," said Hujara. "Let's hope we are successful."

The German said the regulations only said downhillers must start an official training session, not complete the full distance, before being allowed to compete in the race.

"We can imagine even on race day doing an inspection from the top and from the slalom start a short timed training that would save us for all rules and regulations," he said. "So you can see we are quite creative."

(Editing by Miles Evans; to query or comment on this story