KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – After all of the weather-related concerns about mountain venues at the Sochi Games, it wasn't the heat or lack of snow that forced changes to the Olympic schedule.
A dense fog settled over the Rosa Khutor mountain venues Monday morning, making it nearly impossible to see more than just a couple of feet in any direction. Such visibility issues forced officials to move Monday's men's snowboardcross competition to Tuesday morning, and move the men's biathlon 15-kilometer event -- originally scheduled for Sunday evening -- to Tuesday afternoon.
At the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, home to the 2,500-foot long snowboardcross course, the decision to postpone the race by a day seemed inevitable after riders awoke Monday unable to see much of the course, let alone get down it safely.
"You don't send six Formula One cars into a dark tunnel and then see what happens," said Ollie Kraus, a snowboarding spokesman for the International Ski Federation (FIS). "Who would go first in those conditions? It just isn't fair."
Riders attempted one test, during which American Nate Holland said he "couldn't see anything."
"You think what you're gonna do off these features and you can't see anything, you'd have to ride by Braille. I've studied this course and I was confident I'd be able to make it down it, but there's that screwiness factor that no visibility adds," Holland said.
For a sport that features heats of six riders racing down a mountain, flying around turns at nearly 50 mph and hurling themselves over big jumps, the ability to see is crucial. They can race in snow flurries or frigid temperatures or on slushy snow on a warm day like the women had for their race on Sunday, but fog made racing on this day impossible.
It was a jury of FIS officials who at 2 p.m. made the decision to move the race to Tuesday. The jury solicited input from riders and coaches at the top of the course, and Kraus said those four men were told that conditions at the top of the course were significantly worse than at the bottom.
"It would have been so incredibly dangerous to try to pull something off," American Alex Deibold said.
Given how poor the visibility was, riders were more relieved than frustrated once the decision was made. Holland, who finished fourth in Vancouver and is chasing his first Olympic medal, said it wouldn't be right to let poor visibility affect the outcome of the season's biggest race.
At the base of the course, where fans, including riders' families waited, the announcement was met with groans. For Deibold's family, it was both welcome and devastating news.
Deibold's girlfriend, Ashley Berger, his sister, Jillian, and an aunt were each booked on flights out of Sochi, scheduled to take off before the rescheduled races will begin. Berger's eyes welled up as she considered the idea of having flown all the way here from the home she shares with Deibold in Boulder, Colo. – after enduring a series of canceled flights on her way here on Friday – only to have to leave without seeing him race.
"I'm bummed. I don't want him to run and not be safe, but it's a lot of emotional build up," said Berger, a former snowboarding coach who is an MBA student at the University of Colorado.