February issue 2010
The Other Olympics
The Olympics are starting on Friday. Yes, it has been less than two years since Beijing, but these are those other Olympic games. The ones with fewer sports, fewer participating countries and fewer reasons to care.
To make up for not having women’s beach volleyball, the Winter Olympics have sillier sports, such as luge and biathlon. Yes, the summer games have synchronised swimming, but the winter games have ice dancing, and so they basically cancel each other out. Biathlon is one of those sports that someone must have made up while he was drunk or snowed-in at a log cabin for weeks. It involves two sports that normally are not associated with each other, skiing and shooting, unless of course you are Roger Moore escaping from Russian heavies in the opening scene of a James Bond flick. If biathlon involved shooting and snowmobiling it would be perfectly designed for rednecks. And Canada would sweep the podium.
Vancouver, Canada, is in fact hosting the XXI Winter Olympiad. And just three days before the opening ceremonies, it is already experiencing problems. Here are some:
1. Too little snow: Vancouver, a city known for mild winters, is experiencing a record mild winter. Cypress Mountain, just outside Vancouver where the snowboarding and freestyle skiing events will take place, looks, well, ugly for a Winter Olympics venue. The hills are green and brown from the warmth and rain, instead of white. Truckloads of pristine white snow have been shipped in from 250 kms away to get the slopes ready and make Vancouver look like a city in a country known for igloos, ice hockey and permafrost.
2. Unwanted visitors: If luge wasn’t already dangerous enough (racing down an ice track on a tiny sled, on your back, at about 140km/h), now the men (and women) in tights who take part in it must watch out for wild, hairy fans storming the track. Black bears (real ones with big teeth) have been moseying up to the luge track this week in Vancouver as athletes have been taking their practice runs.
3. Fake smiles: Vancouver city officials, a little unsure whether their staff know how to smile without looking artificial, have produced a handbook to guide government employees when hundreds of international dignitaries descend on the city for the games. The 150-page manual, besides giving advice on wearing matching knee-high socks and not wearing clothes that are too tight, is instructing notoriously polite Canadians to smile “gently” with warmth. “Be careful not to overdo it. False smiles can look artificial, and never-ending smiles may invite suspicion.”
4. Explosive revelations: On December 31, Kinder Morgan, a pipeline transportation and energy storage company, reported that two tonnes of potentially explosive ammonium nitrate fertilizer went missing from its warehouse in North Vancouver. So just a month before the 2010 Winter Olympic Games were to begin, the RCMP launched an investigation to track down the 6,000 missing bags of fertilizer, which is a popular ingredient in bombs (it was used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing). Fears that the explosive chemical were stolen escalated quickly and the media, affected by perpetual orange alerts south of the border, was imagining a major terrorist threat. The police investigation determined, though, that the thousands of bags were not missing but just an inventory discrepancy: a very embarrassing clerical error by Kinder Morgan.
5. Used needles and poor people: Despite being ranked as the most livable city in the world by The Economist in 2009, Vancouver has a seedier side it is trying to hide from the world: namely its Downtown Eastside. With literally thousands of journalists reporting from British Columbia for the Olympics, the provincial and city governments have set up an information centre to spin the reality of an area of Vancouver commonly known as “Canada’s poorest postal code.” The city’s once prosperous Downtown Eastside is now known for its drug addicts, prostitutes and homeless. Critics say the info centre is a “propaganda kiosk” that attempts to blame the homeless for their problems and showcase government social programmes, even though many programmes are inadequate or are being shutdown, and the government seems to have no effective long-term plan to rehabilitate the people and the neighbourhood.
Oh, and if all that wasn’t bad enough, the Vancouver games are reportedly extremely over budget and British Columbians aren’t really convinced they will do much good: an opinion survey by Angus-Reid from late January found that only 50% of British Columbians believe the Winter Olympics will have a mostly positive impact on the province.
Ah, the joys and positivity of hosting the other Olympics during a global recession.