(File pix) Olympic skiers are wearing tapes on their faces to combat the cold and wind. NYT Photo

THE Americans are wearing battery-powered parkas, while the Canadians are using heated snow pants. The Norwegians brought their own hot chocolate.

Then there’s the scene at the moguls skiing hill, where yoga mats — or things that look like yoga mats — are used to create a barrier between one’s feet and the freezing turf.

The conditions in Pyeong-chang, South Korea, are severe. The men’s downhill ski racing event, scheduled for yesterday, was postponed to Thursday because of strong winds and unfavourable forecast. Some training sessions scheduled for today were cancelled.

So, at this unusually chilly Winter Games — with wind chills expected to make it feel like -18°C — elite athletes long accustomed to cold weather are trying anything and everything to stay warm. Some are going high-tech. Others are using home remedies.

The most lasting images of these Olympics may be the taped faces. Skiers from Slovakia and other countries are strapping sticky athletic tape across their cheeks and noses to protect their skin.

Whether any of this actually does much to warm the body — or make a difference between gold and 12th place — is another question. The scientific consensus is rather unscientific. If the Olympians think they feel warmer, they may feel less distracted and perform slightly better.

“You’re talking about really small margins, so if you’ve got them feeling comfortable, that’s a large step in the right direction,” said Mike Tipton, a professor in the Extreme Environments Laboratory at the University of Portsmouth’s department of sport and exercise science.

Dr Lubomir Soucek, who works with Slovakia’s Olympic team, said his country’s biathletes were using both Vaseline and tape to protect their exposed skin.

“The issue is serious in the Alpine skiing,” he said. “You have to protect your face not to have frozen skin.”

Experts say face-taping probably offers some degree of comfort during bitter weather conditions. Tape and Vaseline can add a layer of insulation to decrease the amount of sweat evaporating off the skin, Tipton said. But, the benefit is mostly psychological — eliminating the distraction of a cold nose and cheeks rather than changing overall body temperature, which would have a much more significant effect on performance.

Canada’s Alpine skiers have battery-heated pants to wear during downtime on the slopes. Defending giant slalom champion Ted Ligety. of the United States, has a pair, too. He said he also intended to spend a little extra time in the tent at the top of the course.

The US delegation has jackets with battery-powered heating elements. Concern about cold conditions prompted the Italian team, which was 59th in the parade of nations at the opening ceremony, to advise its athletes to skip the entertainment portion of the ceremony.

Some cross-country and biathlon athletes have been spotted holding a whistle-like gadget in their mouths as they ski. The device is a respiratory heat exchanger. Aluminium coils inside of it capture the heat from an athlete’s breath. When the athlete sucks in cold air, the air is warmed by the residual heat so it feels less cold going into the athlete’s lungs. Czech biathlete Eva Puskarcikova has been photographed using it; a team spokesman said it helped her breathing during the event. But, the gadget looks odd, like a hunting whistle, and sometimes icicles made of saliva form on the end of it.

In 1988, University of Wisconsin researchers studied the device, called a Lungplus, when used by 91 subjects in various cold-weather conditions. Overall, Lungplus users reported more comfort breathing in very cold temperatures. The researchers noted that Lungplus breathing at minus-15°C received similar scores, in terms of comfort, as regular breathing in 20°C, according to the research published in Applied Ergonomics.

Norwegian athletes, who are accustomed to very cold weather, have adopted several strategies to stay warm in Pyeongchang, according to the team’s chief medical officer, Mona Kjeldsberg. Members of the Alpine team and support crew use heated socks while they wait to compete, she said. Most wear wool undergarments and use tape and buffs to protect exposed skin on the face. To stay warm, “hot chocolate from Norway is a favourite”, she said. NYT

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