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Monday, February 11, 2002
Postponement leaves Picabo fans out in the cold

Associated Press

SNOWBASIN, Utah -- At least the kids from Lakeside Elementary School got to wave to Picabo Street, and she waved back.

Eight-year-old Jordan MacPherson got up at 4 a.m., the earliest he'd ever been awake not counting Christmas. He had to be at the school by 5:50 a.m.

He and 49 other children at the West Point, Utah, school won a drawing to attend the women's downhill race, one of the most anticipated events of the Salt Lake City Olympics.

They were among the 23,000 or so fans who left the mountain disappointed on Monday when the race was postponed because of high winds at the top of the course.

"I didn't like how they canceled it," Jordan said.

For the children of West Point, and everyone else unfamiliar with downhill racing, it was a daylong lesson in the unpredictable nature of Alpine skiing.

Weather often delays races, sometimes for days. On the World Cup circuit, cancellations are common.

But this day had seemed so special, and at the bottom of the Wildflower course, the wind barely blew. But near the top, where the race was to begin, the gusts topped 20 mph, and that was too much for the skiers to race safely.

"It's sad," said Tom Ramsay, 40, of Salt Lake City, "but I'll survive. I've got other events to go to. It's just awesome to be here."

Getting to Snowbasin is no simple task at these Olympics. In order to make the 10 a.m. start, spectators must rise early, make their way to a parking lot, then take the long shuttle bus ride up Mount Ogden. Transportation problems prevented about 3,000 people from seeing the start of the men's downhill on Sunday.

By Monday, the system was operating smoothly. The big metal stands were packed with a decidedly pro-Picabo crowd. After all, the two-time Olympic medalist makes her home just up the road in Park City.

"Go Neighbor, Picabo Gold," one banner read. "Go USA, Go Picabo. We Love You," said another.

The first announcement said the race was delayed until 11. An hour later, it was delayed again, this time until noon.

The fans amused themselves by watching snowboard qualifying or women's hockey on the giant video screen at the finish line. Prodded by the public address announcers, they did the "wave," first halfheartedly, then with gusto.

Some waited in interminably long lines for concessions or souvenirs.

About 11:30 a.m., the announcement was made that there would be no race on Monday. There were a few groans, a couple shouts of "No." Then the European fans rang their cowbells again, and a band of Austrian rooters resumed pounding on their drums.

Slowly, the people shuffled out of the stands and joined the giant gathering that would wait for the buses that would take them down the hill.

Pat Paulin, 43, of Newton, Mass., wearing a big red, white and blue hat with Mickey Mouse ears, wondered about her bad luck.

"This is our second event that's been canceled," she said. "We were at the Olympic Park for the qualifying round of ski jumping the other day. But what are you going to do?"

There were no refunds. Fans were told to hold on to their ticket stubs, because they would be good for the rescheduled race.

Most said they would come back. Some said they couldn't.

"I talked to several people from out of state that tomorrow's their last day here," said Heidi Shaw, 32, of Ogden, Utah. "They missed out, which is kind of sad."

Kathleen Handy, 34, of Salt Lake City, certainly won't come to the rescheduled race. Her baby is due on Friday.

"That would be pushing it," she said.