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The cold returns for Winter Olympics in PyeongChang

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PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — The cold is back for the Winter Games.

After two straight balmy Olympics where some might have wondered if it was even winter, let alone the world’s pre-eminent freeze-dependent sporting event, athletes and visitors alike will finally experience a serious chill in their bones during the games in mountainous PyeongChang.

How cold is it?

So cold that tears spring to the eyes. So cold the ink in a pen grows sluggish and fades as it scribbles over a page. So cold that South Korean men sometimes flash back to being posted for hours on the frozen frontline during mandatory military service.

So cold at least six people were treated for hypothermia last month after a pop concert at the open-air Olympic Stadium.

“We all hope it will be better in February, but if it’s like it is now, there will be big trouble. It’s just too cold for outsiders,” said Choi Jong-sik, 64, smirking in his short-sleeve shirt as a visiting reporter removed layer after layer of thick outerwear for an interview at Choi’s PyeongChang restaurant.

Vancouver and Sochi, where ski jumpers were landing in puddles, got complaints for being too warm, as might Beijing in 2022, but the weather in PyeongChang will likely dazzle spectators, and confound organizers and athletes, in its bitterness.

PyeongChang sits nearly half a mile above sea level in the northeastern corner of South Korea, not too far from the border with the North.

It is one of the coldest parts of the country — wind chill in February is often in single digits (Fahrenheit) — and notorious for a powerful, biting wind that gathers force as it barrels down out of Siberia and the Manchurian Plain and then across the jagged granite peaks of North Korea.

It can be hard to get people here to talk about, or even acknowledge, the cold. It is simply a fact of life, and stoicism is often the rule when confronted with outsiders’ weather-related questions.

“The only thing foreigners can do is the same thing locals do: bundle up,” Nam Sun-woo, 60, a fishmonger in PyeongChang, said. “Not many outsiders understand how cold it gets here. It’s not like where they’re from. This kind of cold is completely different.”

The weather will be on display, and maybe a major nuisance, at the PyeongChang Olympic Stadium in Hoenggye village.

The much-criticized 35,000-seat, open-air, pentagon-shaped arena, which cost 118.4 billion won ($107 million), will be used only four times — during the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Olympics and Paralympics — and then torn down.

On a recent blustery day, from the top of a nearby 17-story building, the white angular stadium looks a little like a giant discarded Lego piece.

It rises isolated on a wide, flat plain, muscular mountains cascading down behind it. It looks vulnerable and exposed — all those thousands of orange and pink seats laid bare below the wide dome of sky — but also slightly magical as the sun glitters off millions of tiny ice flakes blowing across the plain.

The wind is brutal, and it pounds the entire area, including the stadium and the rooftop, where the gusts rattling through the big AC units sound like a doomed bomber plummeting out of the sky in an old war movie.

Despite the cold, organizers have done little to protect stadium visitors. Spectators will have to sit exposed for as long as five hours in the elements during the nighttime ceremonies.

There are no built-in heating systems for the seats and the corridors, and it’s too late to build a roof and too expensive to install central heat, officials say.

Many of the concertgoers last month where six were treated for hypothermia reportedly flocked to the arena’s toilets for a rare bit of respite from the cold.

Organizers plan to provide each spectator at the Olympic ceremonies with a raincoat, a small blanket and heating pads — one to sit on, one for the hands and a pair for the feet.

They also plan to install polycarbonate walls above the highest seats across the two northwest sides of the stadium to block the strongest winds. ‘

About 40 portable gas heaters will be placed in aisles between the rows of plastic seats, and lots of hot coffee and tea, fish sticks and heated buns will be on sale.

Still, by the time the Opening Ceremony starts at around 8 p.m., the wind chill at the stadium could be minus-14 degrees Celsius (about 7 F).

That is much colder than the wind chill at the ceremonies for the Vancouver and Sochi Games, which were 5 degrees and 4 degrees Celsius, respectively, according to South Korean officials.

When Associated Press journalists visited the area earlier this month, it was minus-18 degrees Celsius (a little below zero F) midmorning at a resort near Olympic Stadium.

Sochi temperatures soared at times. On Monday, Feb. 10, 2014, for instance, it was 16 degrees Celsius (61 degrees Farenheit).

The coastal areas of Gangneung, where skating and hockey will be held, are warmer than PyeongChang. But it’s still cold.

Tourists can be seen in huge quilted coats standing on piers and posing for pictures as huge, frigid blue-green waves crash behind them; they run and laugh, trying to dodge the spray.

Locals often smirk when they see bundled-up tourists waddle around PyeongChang like penguins.

Choi, after an interview, stands outside his restaurant, still in his short-sleeve shirt, smoking a cigarette while a well-layered-up reporter shivers nearby. “Sometimes I go out like this and the people in warm coats look at me like I’m crazy.”

A drive into the mountains twists through isolated former mining towns and past frozen fields, frozen rivers, frozen forests and dramatic granite peaks that look in places like they’re sliding into the valleys.

The sun sparkles on the brittle ice covering the landscape; the wind roars through the pine trees like traffic on the interstate.

“It’s cold, and it’s going to get colder. But what can we do?” said Ahn Young Ju, 36, a restaurant owner in the remote town of Nammyeon in Jeongseon county, which will host the Alpine skiing events. “We were born here, so we try not to think too much about it.”

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Coco Gauff eliminated from French Open

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PARIS (AP) — American teenager Coco Gauff’s French Open debut ended in the second round after she double-faulted 19 times in a 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 loss to 159th-ranked qualifier Martina Trevisan.

Gauff double-faulted twice in the last game of the 2-hour, 11-minute match.

The 16-year-old Gauff has reached at least the third round at the other three major tournaments.

For Trevisan, a 26-year-old from Italy, this was her first victory in a Grand Slam match played to its conclusion.

She lost in the first round at the Australian Open this year in her first appearance at a major, then advanced Sunday at Roland Garros when her opponent, Camila Giorgi, stopped playing in the second set because of an injury.

Against Gauff, Trevisan kept yelling, “Yes!” and “Let’s go!” in Italian between points, then let out a high-pitched scream when the match ended.

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Earlier, Defending champion Rafael Nadal reached the third round by beating American player Mackenzie McDonald 6-1, 6-0, 6-3.

The No. 2-seeded Spaniard is looking to win his record-extending 13th French Open title and equal Roger Federer’s men’s record of 20 major titles overall.

Nadal improved his record at Roland Garros to 95-2 when he sealed victory on his first match point. He next faces 74th-ranked Stefano Travaglia of Italy.

Sebastian Korda has now beaten two tour veterans in his first French Open.

After eliminating Andreas Seppi in his opening main draw match, the 20-year-old American qualifier took out 21st-seeded John Isner in the second round with a 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 win.

A former junior world No. 1 and winner of the boys title at the 2018 Australian Open — and the son of 1992 French Open finalist Petr Korda — Korda broke Isner’s normally dominant serve five times.

The No. 213-ranked Korda will next face either Mikhail Kukushkin or qualifier Pedro Martinez on Friday.

Also, No. 27-seeded American Taylor Fritz reached the third round by serving 16 aces in a straight-set victory over Radu Albot.

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Figure skating’s Grand Prix Final postponed

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The Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual international figure skating competition, will not take place as scheduled in December in Beijing due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The International Skating Union announced Wednesday that the Final was postponed.

There were “a number of logistical points raised by potentially participating teams that meant that hosting the competitions on the scheduled dates (close to the end of year holidays and national championships) would have impacted on the number of participants, given the potential need to quarantine on returning to their home country,” according to the ISU.

The ISU is “evaluating the continuation” of the upcoming season and possible rescheduling of the competition in China, which doubles as a 2022 Beijing Olympic test event.

The Grand Prix Final, held every December after the six-event Grand Prix Series, is the biggest indicator of Olympic and world championships medal prospects.

The Grand Prix Series is still scheduled to start with Skate America in Las Vegas from Oct. 23-25.

Fields have not been announced, but skaters are restricted to compete at the event in their home nation or in or near their training location.

The ISU also announced that the remaining World Cup short track speed skating stops in 2020 were postponed or canceled — Seoul and Beijing, both in December.

Previously, the first short track World Cups in November were canceled. All four of the long-track speed skating World Cups scheduled this fall were also canceled.

The next scheduled World Cup short- or long-track events are in February.

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