* Alpine skiing, snowboarding, ski jumping delayed
* Leaf-blowers used to clear ski jumping hill
* German and Swede win biathlon golds
By Janet Guttsman
VANCOUVER, Feb 16 (Reuters) - The weather gods cursed the Vancouver Winter Olympics again on Tuesday, forcing delays to Alpine skiing, snowboarding and ski jumping, with rain near Vancouver and snow and fog shrouding the mountains.
But while the super combined slalom, the main Alpine event on Tuesday’s roster, was postponed until Sunday, organisers limped ahead with a stop-start women’s snowboard cross race where qualifying runs were punctuated by frequent delays for poor visibility and overnight rain led to a string of tumbles.
Germany and Sweden picked up gold medals in biathlon skiing, with Magdalena Neuner taking gold in the women’s race, and Bjorn Ferry in the men‘s.
Switzerland led the medals table halfway through day four with three golds, followed by the United States, Germany, South Korea, France and Sweden, who all have two.
But the weather was again a top story in a Games that have been plagued by rain and unseasonably warm temperatures.
Organisers on Tuesday said they would refund C$1.4 million worth of tickets at the Cypress Mountain venue for snowboarding and freestyle events because the ground is too just soft for spectators to stand in safety.
“It’s just too unstable out there and too unsafe to have people walking around,” vice president of ticketing Caley Denton said of the cancellations, which affects some 28,000 standing room ticketholders.
The warmest January in Vancouver history dumped rain instead of snow on the Cypress and Olympics organisers had brought snow in by truck and helicopter to build the courses. With Olympic races already under way, that is no longer an option.
In ski-jumping, practice on the large hill was postponed for 30 minutes, before Switzerland’s Simon Ammann, already a gold winner at the Games, landed a practice jump of 143 metres, the longest of the day.
“I try, of course, to impress the other guys, (and) to go on in that fabulous form I‘m in. Of course it’s much easier to enjoy it after 143 metres,” he said.
But the Nordic ski events went on as scheduled. Six-times world champion Neuner brought home the first gold of the day in the women’s 10km biathlon pursuit.
Ferry, who lists his hobbies as fishing, cooking and cleaning, took his first Olympic medal with the gold in the men’s 12.5 km race.
Also scheduled for Tuesday is the women’s luge, which is being run on a shortened course after a training crash that killed Georgian slider Nodar Kumaritashvili on Friday. German favourite Tatjana Huefner is ahead after three runs.
Germany’s three-time world single distance champion Jenny Wolf is favourite to claim her first Olympic gold in the 500 metres speedskating, an afternoon event.
Later comes the start of men’s ice hockey, which has hit off-ice headlines after organisers ordered U.S. netminder Jonathan Quick to remove a ‘Support Our Troops’ slogan from his helmet for contravening Olympic rules on political propaganda.
One event that did begin as scheduled was the start of the men’s curling, where host nation Canada beat Norway 7-6.
The Canadians dressed conservatively in black trousers and shirts in the colour of Canada’s red and white Maple Leaf flag. The Norwegians threw caution to the wind, with garish red-blue-white harlequin trousers.
The Games have already delivered drama, as well as the tragedy of Kumaritashvili’s death.
Chinese husband-and-wife team Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo came out of retirement to break Russia’s extraordinary 46-year stranglehold on the figure skating pairs event on Monday, winning the gold medal.
They said they would retire -- for keeps this time -- and possibly have a baby.
Editing by Jon Bramley; To comment on this story email email@example.com