Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Vancouver 2010 – Washed Out, Fenced In, Another Big Owe?

When I was in grade eight, I went with my school class on a field trip to Quebec – it was a rite of passage as we graduated from elementary to high school. One of the many wonders we saw was Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, with its suspended roof.

I still have the pictures from that field trip, showing the partially-covered stadium, as the roof was being repaired – again. That stadium has since been nicknamed by us Canadians as “the big owe,” because it – and much of the Olympics held in Montreal, Quebec in 1976, cost that province, the city and even the country more money than it brought in.

Ever since the Montreal Expos baseball team left Montreal (they went to just as lackluster a baseball town – Washington, D.C.) in 2004, Montreal’s Olympic Stadium has spent much of its time doing what it does best – fall apart.

Will the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics currently center stage in the world’s media suffer the same fate?

Although it is amazing to be a citizen of the host country, are two-weeks of good press worth millions of lost tax dollars?

Final attendance figures won’t be in until the Olympics packs up and leaves Canada’s west coast, but already we are seeing a string of bad luck which could washout any chance of recouping municipal, provincial and federal money spent to bring the Winter Games to Canada.

From the very public torch malfunction during the opening ceremonies, to the latest hero at the 2010 Winter Olympics – a Zamboni – of all things.

The speed skating rink suffered a premature meltdown and the ice resurfacing machine onsite malfunctioned, which forced organizers to import a Zamboni all the way from Calgary, Alberta to repair the ice rink. The Zamboni brought in was the only one powerful enough to handle the Olympic-sized ice rink

Yesterday 20,000 ticket-holding fans weren’t let into the snowboarding venue – for their own safety – because people were falling and getting stuck between the bales of hay under the trucked-in snow used to create the observation areas. The snow had been melting under Vancouver’s warm weather, creating an unstable, and unsafe, observation area.

Early this morning, construction workers finally removed the chain-link fence preventing Olympic-goers from taking pictures of the giant Olympic cauldron. A Canadian TV reporter even called the barricade a “ratty-looking prison-camp fence.”

And nothing could ever overshadow the death of a Georgian Luger on the very first day of the Olympics, just hours prior to the opening ceremonies, during a training run. The luge track has earned a reputation since its opening in 2007 as the fastest, most challenging, most feared – and now the most deadly track in the world.

So, will the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics go down bigger than the “Big Owe” in Montreal, and end up costing Canadian taxpayers more money?

Already the games have lost $1.5 million in revenues, from 28,000 canceled tickets at Cypress Mountain due to poor weather for the halfpipe and snowboardcross. Fans who spent the $50 to $65 to see the events will get their money back – but just add that to the cost to Canadian taxpayers to bring the games here.

Not to mention the cost to taxpayers to truck-in all the snow and snow-making equipment – Vancouver rarely gets much snow – who’s brainchild of an idea was it to hold the WINTER games there?

Rain and mild temperatures have prevented many events from going at their regularly scheduled times. Yesterday the men’s super-combined was postponed because of an overnight snowstorm, while the women’s downhill training was cancelled – the downhill training had previously been repeatedly postponed because of rain and warm temperatures.

Locals attending the games have begun to call it the Vancouver Summer Olympics, because of the mild wet conditions – but that joke is costing the games – and the Canadian taxpayer – plenty, with all the cancellations, and constant rescheduling of events.

The British press has already begun calling this the worst Olympic Games ever – even worse than the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics, which were marred by many technical problems, and overshadowed by a terrorist bombing. The “Brits” play host to the next Olympics in London.

Maybe all of this will be good for Montreal – no longer will that Canadian city stand alone in an Olympic-sized debt?

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