Wrong type of snow hits Games

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OPINIONS differ over who has the worst job at the Nagano Winter Olympics. Last week, that distinction appeared to belong to Shogo Hashimoto, a high school student who stands for eight hours a day with a sandwich board directing passengers from the Bullet Train. Shogo cannot move, or his arrows point the wrong way.

But 600 new contenders have emerged in the last couple of days - the Japanese Army recruits charged with the fruitless task of clearing the slopes of excess snow which has already forced the postponement of the men's downhill, combined slalom and women's snowboarding giant slalom.

These are threatening to become the Winter Olympics which were snowed off.

On the eve of the Games, the executive director of the organising committee said that if he could have one wish, it would be for another good fall of snow. On Sunday, he got that wish. The clouds rolled in over the Happo'one course in the outlying resort of Hakuba - and dumped far more snow than the organisers could handle.

The forecast is for at least two more days of dense snowfall - caused, apparently by winter storms off the Sea of Japan. The rate of fall at the Hakuba slope yesterday was reported to be an inch per hour.

Nagano's unusual geographical circumstances mean that its snow is wetter than that which falls in Europe - and less suitable for machine clearance.

To add to the woes of the labouring servicemen, charged with keeping the Games on course, a partial thaw quickly refroze, turning the slopes into a giant slide. And just to keep them on their toes, matters were then complicated further by an avalanche warning.

1 The skier pictured on the front page of yesterday's Independent was Takahiro Sakamoto, of Japan, not Britain's Sam Temple. The error arose because of incorrect information supplied by Reuters news agency.