Thursday, 18 February 2010
After years of painstaking planning, construction, advertising and anticipation, the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics finally opened on Friday February 12.
Athletes, the media and sports enthusiasts from around the world gathered at B.C. place for a nearly 3 hour spectacle that showcased the unique, multicultural element these games have vowed to represent.
Unfortunately for the city of Vancouver and its Olympic Organizing Committee, the games have been subject to a slew of criticism.
The most heart wrenching has been the attention drawn to the Whistler Olympic track following the tragic death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumartitashvili who was killed during a training run on the eve of the opening ceremonies.
The newly constructed facility is the site of the Luge, Bobsleigh and Skeleton events and had already generated suspicions regarding its safety before the horrific accident which claimed the life of Kumartitashvili, having seen the track record of 153.937 kilometers an hour broken no less than 5 times in Olympic training runs.
Following the crash the International Luge Federation and the IOC conducted a review of the track and determined that the fatality was a tragic accident, that the track would be modified but was indeed safe and that the competitions would proceed.
This despite the numerous crashes that have occurred during training runs, including 7 on Wednesday February 17 alone, leading to sharp criticism that the athlete’s safety concerns are not being properly addressed.
God knows how the IOC or the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) would respond in the unfortunate event of another serious accident.
Then there is the issue of snow, or more accurately, the lack of it, which has drawn the ire of many who suggested that Vancouver was not a suitable venue to host the Winter Games to begin with.
It’s no secret that the region is prone to mild winters and low snowfall, but to experience rainfall in the Rocky Mountains that has delayed skiing events that already looked suspect for their lack of snow, only exacerbated claims that Vancouver would be at the mercy of Mother Nature, leaving the efficacy of the games very much in doubt.
Obviously the weather is not something that can be controlled, and every contingency plan has been adopted to ensure that the athletes and their events can be given the best chance of success, but it’s been hard to shake off the slings and arrows of international jeers which televised images of mushy, green streaked mountaintops and spectators in shorts, T shirts and raingear have generated, especially when much of North America has seen record snowfall this winter.
There was also the problem of the lengthy delay in resurfacing the ice at the Richmond Olympic Oval, site of the speedskating events.
The Men’s 500m suffered an unusual delay due to problems with one of the two Olympia brand ice resurfacing vehicles used between races to keep the ice in top form. While competitors and spectators waited, coaches and athletes complained bitterly about the amateurish inability of the venue staff to maintain the ice.
Normally two machines are used to clean and resurface the ice, but initially one machine broke down, then the second. A third, smaller Olympia at the site was called into operation, but this too suffered mechanical problems, prompting an hour delay between heats, before one of the machines finally emerged to clean the ice, and had organizers scrambling to call in a Zamboni machine from Calgary for the remainder of the events..
In many European nations where speedskating is a hugely popular event, the delay suggested a noticeable lack of planning.
The sporting director of Dutch speedskating Arie Koops was quoted as saying, "When skaters are not prepared for a race you don't send them out. It should be the same with the resurfacing machine. If one machine was broken, they should have prepared the third. It was standing there in the garage. I have never seen anything like this."
Previously Dutch national team coach Wopke de Vegt had leveled his own charges that the Olympia machines were simply not reliable enough to produce the high quality ice surface necessary for Olympic and World Record times.
These may seem trivial concerns to Canadians, for whom the primary ice issues surround the Hockey and Curling events, but in the Netherlands, whose speedskating team is a powerhouse expected to win a number of medals, it’s taken very seriously indeed.
The Olympic games are rarely held without controversy of some sort, nor have they been spared from tragedy. No matter where or when the spectacle occurs, they are not immune to all the foibles and uncertainties of our times.
What is certain is that the Vancouver Games are proceeding with all the tenacity and pride that Canadians have always shown in the face of adversity, and should, with a little help from Old Man Winter, emerge as an event worthy of praise and tribute to the glory of sport.
Copyright JQM 2010