A key testing period for the venue that will host luge, bobsled and skeleton events at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics has been scrapped for now and pushed back until at least October because workers were unable to coat the track with ice.
Organizers said the Alpensia Sliding Centre's refrigeration system failed, and a group of international sliders who were there to assess the venue are all heading home without getting any full runs. It's a significant setback for the track, and workers now may have to scramble for the venue to become fully certified for pre-Olympic test events that are scheduled for next winter.
"Not the best first impression," USA Luge veteran Chris Mazdzer of Saranac Lake, New York, told The Associated Press on Saturday.
Sliders had been invited to test the track's safety, ensure the venue is technically sound and suggest any possible changes. They were expecting to get 12 runs or more down the track. Instead, they got only a handful of slides down the lower portion of the chute, not enough to make any useful assessments of the facility.
"The refrigeration plant is not currently stabilized to operate at maximum capacity and current weather conditions prevented the ability to maintain the ice," track officials said in a statement.
The refrigeration system worked on the lower part of the track, but not the upper portion. Despite requests from organizers to not share photos, some athletes such as Russian luger Albert Demchenko posted images on Facebook showing bare concrete on large swaths of the track.
"It looks like it will be a tremendous facility," U.S. skeleton coach Zach Lund, who was in South Korea to observe the testing, said Saturday. "The track looks like it will be very hard and technical and the area is nice. They just had some bad luck with their refrigeration system and then struggled to accept it. Overall, I think everything will be fine by next season."
Approval must occur before any new track can be certified by the governing bodies for the sliding sports and this delay is going to create some logistical headaches for sliders next season.
The idea of adding a long trip to South Korea shortly before the grueling World Cup season begins in North America and Europe is far from ideal, which is why such test periods typically happen at this time of year -- after the international sliding schedules are completed.
Mazdzer said October will be an "interesting time" to go through such a process because "people are just getting on their sleds and getting comfortable. He also noted that most teams have their own selection races around that time.
Mazdzer said sliders have been making the best of the situation. He went swimming one day, skiing another and was touring temples on Saturday. Instead of sliding Sunday and Monday as planned, he's going to Seoul for a quick vacation before flying back to the U.S.
There are tentative plans for bobsled, skeleton and luge athletes to have training weeks on the new track next winter before the Olympics there the following year.