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Snowfall Blankets Games, Delays Gu's Freeski Run

The logo for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games is displayed as snow falls ahead of the freestyle skiing women's aerials qualification at the Genting Snow Park A & M Stadium in Zhangjiakou, China, on Feb. 13, 2022.

Heavy snowfall brought a wintry atmosphere to the Beijing Olympics on Sunday, as well as disruptions, forcing the postponement of home team favorite Eileen Gu's qualifying run in the freeski slopestyle to Monday.

At the National Cross-Country Center in Zhangjiakou, volunteers used leaf-blowers to clear the tracks used for classic-style skiing ahead of Sunday's 4x10-kilometer men's relay.

Swirling winds blew the powdery snow, limiting visibility for racers and fans alike and causing drifting on the course.

With temperatures of minus 11 degrees Celsius at the venue 200 kilometers northwest of Beijing, adverse weather slowed the pace considerably, and the race took almost half an hour longer than its equivalent in Pyeongchang four years ago.

Earlier, the San Francisco-born Gu had been set to make her first competitive appearance since winning gold on Tuesday in Big Air for host China, but her legions of fans were forced to wait a day to see her qualifying run in freeski slopestyle.

In Yanqing, the men's giant slalom Switzerland's Odermatt clinches giant slalom gold went ahead despite reduced visibility due to driving snow, with start intervals for the first group of racers shortened to one minute, 45 seconds. A decision to delay the second run by 75 minutes paid off with better conditions.

A lack of natural precipitation had forced organizers to make vast quantities of artificial snow to stage the Games, but snow that had been falling in Zhangjiakou since Saturday coated the surrounding brown hills white.

In the Chinese capital, which gets relatively little snow, U.S. snowboarder Hailey Langland said visibility was a challenge following a practice session at Shougang Big Air, the only Olympic snow sports venue in urban Beijing.

"It makes it really hard to differentiate where you're going to land, or when," she told Reuters.

At the men's giant slalom in Yanqing won by Switzerland's Marco Odermatt, skiers supported the decision to go ahead with the race.

"Definitely, the light is more than skiable, it just makes it difficult. I like it," Norway's Henrik Kristoffersen said after his first run.

"The snow is a little uneven so it is quite aggressive in spots... a little slick... I think it was difficult for everyone."

One beneficiary of Sunday's snow was Paralympics mascot Shuey Rhon Rhon, who resembles a red Chinese lantern capped with snow and has been eclipsed by the immense popularity of Olympics mascot Bing Dwen Dwen, an icy-suited panda.

"It's snowing. Shuey Rhon Rhon finally becomes the main character," one user wrote on the Weibo social media platform.