A glitch for every gold at the Vancouver Games
Associated Press Writer
Vail, CO Colorado
VANCOUVER, British Columbia – If it’s not the weather, it’s the cauldron. Or the hay. Or the ice machine at the skating rink. Or the spigot at the luge track.
Nothing seems to be going right in Vancouver, where the Glitch Games are officially under way.
Organizers had to refund 28,000 standing-room tickets at the snowboarding venue because fans were slipping between bales of hay beneath the melting layers of trucked-in snow.
But it’s not just the big stuff. The little things are going wrong, too. A spigot went off accidentally Tuesday night at the luge track, spraying it with water. A German racer was held up for two minutes before sliding to a bronze.
All this at an Olympics where the weather simply won’t cooperate. For weeks before the games, it was too wet and warm. Then on Monday night came a snowstorm, and the men’s super-combined ski race had to be put off.
Organizers were pelted with questions about all the mishaps and whether the Vancouver Games are snakebitten – and worse, destined to be as disappointing as infamously glitchy games like Atlanta’s in 1996.
“We continue to be impressed by the level of organization,” said Mark Adams, a spokesman for the International Olympic Committee.
Of course, no scheduling or logistics issue – or sporting event, for that matter – seems significant in light of the death of a Georgian luger on the first day of the Olympics.
And, to be fair, there have been bright spots. Moguls skier Alexandre Bilodeau gave Canada its first gold medal in three home Olympics. The home-country men’s and women’s hockey teams have terrorized opponents.
But aside from that, it’s been one problem after another for a games governed not so much by the Olympic creed as by Murphy’s Law.
It started at the opening ceremony. One of the four legs of an indoor cauldron malfunctioned when it was supposed to rise out of the floor, leaving the structure awkwardly imbalanced and one torchbearer with nothing to do.
And leave it to the Vancouver Games to run into trouble with not one but two Olympic flames.
The outdoor cauldron, on the picturesque waterfront, has been protected by an unsightly chain-link fence, and even that is partly obscured by Vancouver 2010 banners, making photo-snapping difficult.
At a press conference, a Canadian TV reporter asked organizers why the flame was hidden behind “a ratty-looking prison-camp fence.” And the Globe and Mail newspaper chose to allude to another Olympic city – Berlin.
Addressing the head of the Vancouver Games, the paper cried: “Mr. Furlong, tear down this fence!”
Responding to a rising outcry, Vancouver organizing committee spokeswoman Renee Smith-Valade said plans should be unveiled Wednesday to bring the public closer to the flame. Overnight, the fence was torn down, and a smaller fence was built closer to the flame. The new fence has gaps that would let visitors take unobstructed pictures.
“Perhaps,” conceded Renee Smith-Valade, a spokeswoman for the organizing committee, “we did underestimate the degree to which people would want to get close to it.”
From fire to ice: A Zamboni from Calgary, next door in Alberta, rode to the rescue Tuesday after a meltdown at the speedskating rink. The existing machines had left slush and pools of water on the surface the night before.
Athletes weren’t spared, either. Timing foulups marred both biathlon events Tuesday. A Swedish woman was held up at her start gate for 14 seconds, and two of the men went off too early. Officials later corrected for the errors.
“It is embarrassing,” said Norbert Baier, the International Biathlon Union’s technical delegate. “Why do we have this incompetence?”
The competition schedule, meanwhile, looks like it’s been run over by a bobsled.
Besides the super-combined, women’s snowboardcross had to be delayed because of rain and fog. Women’s downhill training was canceled.
This after downhill training was postponed repeatedly earlier in the Olympics because of wet weather that messed with the snow. It’s been so mild that locals have jokingly called it the Vancouver Summer Olympics.
“It’s getting ridiculous, for sure, how much changing of the schedule and shuffling around has been happening,” said Thomas Vonn, husband and coach of Lindsey Vonn, a multimedal favorite.
Then again, each day of canceled training gives Vonn’s badly bruised right shin more time to heal. For everyone else, the delays are a mounting annoyance.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 the worst, this is a 10. That’s for sure,” said Patrick Riml, head coach of Canada’s women’s Alpine team.
“Wouldn’t mind racing already,” American Alpine skier Ted Ligety tweeted.
Vancouver organizers say they’re responding as best they can to problems mostly out of their control.
“It’s a little like losing your luggage,” Smith-Valade said at a press conference where she was bombarded by questions about all that’s gone wrong. “It’s not whether the luggage gets lost – it’s how you deal with it.”
And the press in Britain – which gets the next Olympics – is gleefully skewering Vancouver. “London 2012 can’t be worse than the Vancouver Games this winter,” went the headline in The Times of London.
The International Olympic Committee insists it has no second thoughts.
“If we had the decision again, we would take the same decision,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said. “It would come to Vancouver.”
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