Woe, Canada! Olympic problems and missteps pile up
The cancellation of 20,000 more tickets to events at Cypress Mountain, on top of myriad other woes, is putting Vancouver Olympics organizers increasingly on the defensive as they attempt to salvage the world's impressions of the Games taking place here.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Top three. For Canada's elite athletes with a disability, many of whom had cruised through earlier Paralympics with little outside pressure, the 2010 Games definitely ratcheted up the expectation level. And it was accomplished with a terrific final weekend.9:54 PM Mar 21 from
The 2010 Paralympics, breaking new records in attendance and visibility around the world, closed out in a flash of colour and patriotism Sunday night as athletes from around the world gathered under a basketball court-sized Canadian flag and wished the Games goodbye.9:39 PM Mar 21 from
An exhausted John Furlong said Sunday he is happy the arduous road to the Vancouver 2010 Olympics and Paralympics is virtually over. Looking wan and tired, and occasionally downcast, Furlong told reporters at a closing press conference his energetic "blue jackets" -- the volunteer backbone of two remarkable Games -- may wish for another week of fun, but he certainly doesn't.9:38 PM Mar 21 from
Top three. For Canada's elite athletes with a disability, many of whom had cruised through earlier Paralympics with little outside pressure, the 2010 Games definitely ratcheted up the expectation level. And it was accomplished with a terrific final weekend.7:22 PM Mar 21 from
When wheelchair athlete Chantal Petitclerc won 10 gold medals combined at the 2004 and 2008 Paralympic Summer Games, she was reserved a star on Canada's Walk of Fame. So where does that place skier Lauren Woolstencroft - who earned at least half a star with five golds at the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games?4:53 PM Mar 21 from
When wheelchair athlete Chantal Petitclerc won 10 gold medals combined at the 2004 and 2008 Paralympic Summer Games, she was reserved a star on Canada's Walk of Fame. So where does that place skier Lauren Woolstencroft - who earned at least half a star with five golds at the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games?4:21 PM Mar 21 from
Youth was served in the gold-medal final of Paralympic sledge hockey. Yet it was the game itself, still in its relative infancy in terms of development, that was the big winner after a terrific set of playoff-round games at UBC's Thunderbird Arena.3:52 PM Mar 21 from
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In an hourlong Tuesday briefing touching on everything from transportation snafus to equipment failures to weather woes to the prison-camp look of the Olympic caldron display, some reporters demanded to know if this might be the worst start ever to an Olympic Games.
Clearly concerned about the way these Olympics are being portrayed internationally, Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) spokeswoman Renee Smith-Valade said, "We've seen some press from Britain that we have looked at and wondered which city the reporter is reporting from. It doesn't feel like it's here."
Mark Adams, spokesman for the International Olympic Committee (IOC), praised VANOC's "quick action" to deal with problems and insisted athletes and fans are still having, for the most part, a very positive experience.
By far the biggest pall was cast even before the Games opened, with the Friday death at Whistler of Georgian luge racer Nodar Kumaritashvili triggering controversy about safety of the track.
And since then, the problems and gaffes just seem to keep coming.
Friday evening, as the world watched on television, one of four huge pillars intended to light the caldron at the Opening Ceremony failed to rise.
At the beginning of this week, the ice-resurfacing equipment broke down two days in a row at the Richmond Olympic Oval, delaying speedskating events by up to an hour. VANOC is bringing in a replacement from Calgary, but reporters asked why a backup wasn't closer at hand.
Tuesday, the men's super-combined, in the mountains at Whistler, was postponed because of an overnight snowstorm. That's just the latest weather delay: Earlier, several events and practices had to be rescheduled because of fog, snow or rain.
Smith-Valade said many of the difficulties have been caused by the warmest winter weather on record, which VANOC could not have foreseen. "It's weather and it is what it is and we deal with it," she said.
Not just weather
But the problems at Cypress Mountain have been only partly due to weather. Buses have broken down or gotten lost on the way up, with fans waiting for hours in the cold and darkness to return to Vancouver, and spectators, who are barred from bringing their own food and drink, waiting for more than an hour just for a warm beverage.
VANOC officials said it would have been impossible to have additional customer-service facilities at the relatively small site, a response that fueled criticism of Cypress Mountain's selection as a venue.
The additional Cypress cancellations announced Tuesday — now totaling 28,000 tickets — stemmed from the closure, for all remaining events, of the standing-room area for snowboard and freestyle skiing events.
That viewing area, which accommodated about 4,000 fans, was built by packing tons of snow on top of bales of straw, but persistent rains have washed away much of the snow, said Caley Denton, VANOC's vice president for ticketing.
As a result, the remaining snow cover is so thin, people walking across it have slipped up to their knees or higher in gaps between the straw bales. Denton said crews considered ways to reinforce the area, but "at the end of the day, we just came to the conclusion that it's just too unstable."
VANOC will refund the purchase price of the tickets, $50 to $65 apiece, but only to the original buyer. Anyone who bought tickets at an inflated price on the secondary market is stuck.
The decision does not affect grandstand seating at Cypress or standing-room tickets for freestyle aerials competition, to be held in a separate stadium at Cypress.
Denton said the canceled tickets represent a loss of $1.5 million in ticket revenue. That's a tiny part of VANOC's $260 million in ticket revenue.
But the public-relations damage may be more significant.
Sunday, some fans didn't get word of the closure until they had traveled to the site.
Adams said weather-related changes to events are unfortunate but not unprecedented. He said nearly 60,000 tickets to the Nagano, Japan, Olympics in 1998 were canceled because of bad weather.
He brushed aside a suggestion at the briefing that the IOC may have erred in siting the Winter Olympics in an area with such a moderate climate. He noted that colder, more typical weather is expected for the next week.
Criticism of these Games has been especially pointed in London, site of the next Summer Olympics.
"London 2012 can't be worse than the Vancouver Games this winter" headlined The Times of London.
Even the display of the Olympic caldron, on an industrial-looking space on the Vancouver waterfront, has been a target of widespread criticism.
Throngs line up for blocks to get a view of the flaming sculpture, only to end up photographing it through a chain-link fence. Writer Michael Smyth, in a Tuesday column in The Province, said, "The caldron is a symbol of the human spirit, so why keep it locked up like a caged animal?"
VANOC is taking that criticism to heart, Smith-Valade said, and will reconfigure the display to give passers-by a better view. Details of the display, which will include a viewing platform, will be announced Wednesday, she said.
Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Material from The Associated Press was included in this report.
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