We're a little more than halfway through these 2010 Olympics, so I thought it would be a good time to hand out the midterm grades.
Obviously its a huge undertaking putting on an Olympics, and things are going to go wrong. Well, they have. The transportation system has generally worked well, but early in the games there were reports of long waits for buses in the rain. After selling Grandstand admission tickets to the moguls competition, organizers decided not to honor them--they did give refunds--ostensibly because of safety concerns, but probably, according to those who were there, because of inadequate infrastructure at the mountain. The food kiosks, bathrooms, and footpaths were so crowded that those with seated tickets complained. So they cancelled Grandstand seating, disappointing thousands.
Then there is the continuing saga of the hideous fencing around the Olympic flame, which I wrote about earlier. Organizers have now removed the lower four feet of the cyclone fence and replaced it with custom-made Plexiglas. (This has been an expensive mistake.) Better for pictures, no question. But still an ugly fence around the flame.
Early on, the ice resurfacing machines at the speed skating oval broke down, delaying the competition and requiring two zambonis to be driven to Vancouver from Calgary as replacements. Now some of the speedskaters are complaining the the surface of the brand new oval is "sticky."
All in all, it's a list of problems a little bit longer and more serious than one usually encounters at an Olympics, and quite a bit longer than the most recent Games in Beijing, where everything worked and everyone behaved. That said, people are having a lot more fun here, and the organizers, in every instance, have made adjustments after the fact to help rectify the problems. They have been feeling the heat.
I can't remember an Olympics when I wouldn't have awarded the competition an A. The athletes are beyond comparison when it comes to dedication, humility, courage, and desire. Watching the cross country skiers and biathletes collapse as they cross the finish line, paralyzed with exhaustion, never gets old. (I'm guessing NBC almost never shows those sports, since Americans never win them. It's too bad. One of many, many problems I have with NBC's coverage.) No better example than that of the aforementioned Slovenian cross country star, Ms. Jajdic. Having suffered four broken ribs and a collapsed lung from her fall into the rocks while training, she came back and won the bonze medal in the individual classic sprint. She was in such pain afterward she had to be helped onto the podium during the medal ceremony, unable to climb up the step without assistance.
The most disappointed countries in terms of performance? Certainly the host country, Canada, which is tied with South Korea for 4th overall with just 9 medals. That wouldn't be so bad except Canadian sports officials had made a huge campaign promising the country they would "own the podium", stating repeatedly that their goal was to win more medals than any other country. They also pushed the bounds of sportsmanship by severely restricting access by other countries to Vancouver's facilities for training--a policy that, critics say, contributed to the death of the Georgian luger. Certainly, there are more medals coming their way. Ice dancing looks like s good bet for gold tonight. Hockey and curling remain to be determined, though Canada's men's hockey team has disappointed to date. Still, officials have conceded they are not going to be winning the medal count.
It's also been a weak showing for Russia, which is hosting the next Winter Games. Traditionally a Winter Olympic power, they have only seven medals to date, two of them gold.
The main reason Vancouver doesn't rate an A in atmosphere is the weather, which, when it hasn't been raining, has been springlike. Trees are literally in full flower downtown, daffodils are blooming, and people are roaming the streets wearing shirtsleeves. Doesn't feel like a Winter Games.
"I wouldn't try to pick him up," I warned him. "He'll bite you."
"I'm not going to pick him up," the raccoon catcher said. "I'm going to kick him."
Of course you are, I thought. Why wouldn't you? Canada lost a hockey game, so you kick a raccoon. Brilliant. Fortunately, the raccoon disappeared.
Bottom line is the people of B.C. are loving their day in the sun, donning their Canadian sweaters, painting their faces, and generally reveling till all hours of the night, every night. So far the hosers have been mostly guilty of belting out some very bad renditions of Oh, Canada! at the top of their lungs on the street. It's so much more festive than it was in Torino four years ago, where it was as
if the local populace was intent on showing itself too cool to embrace a sporting event like the Olympics. Empty seats could be found at many events in Italy. Not so, here. Canada loves its winter sports, and it shows. Even compulsory ice dance was a sellout.
I'm the worst person to try to give a grade about the television coverage you're getting, since I'm watching the Games in Canada. They're doing a great job. From everything I hear, though, NBC is still delaying the coverage of too many of the marquis events, packaging them for prime time rather than showing them live, and--this I hear over and over--showing way too much of Bob Costas. Someone asked me if he had it in his contract he had to be shown a certain number of minutes every hour. His ego's that big, but I doubt his agent's that good.
No, Dick Ebersol, the man who does NBC's Olympic programming, just doesn't trust the athletes to be enough. To him, the Olympics is entertainment, not sports. So he trots out Costas, Steven Colbert, Al Michaels...who else? I don't watch. Rather than show the athletes from all nations competing. Here in Canada, as in most countries, the television host ushers the viewer from one sport to the next, briefly setting the scene, laying the backdrop, then introducing the announcers at the venue before disappearing for the next hour or two. At NBC, the host (Costas) doesn't usher. He is like the guest who won't leave after dinner, pontificating, carrying on, laughing too loud and staying too long. Sports? Why rush off to watch sports? He knows the outcome, after all. It's been taped.