Vancouver Olympics – Opening Ceremony Critical Review

Did you see the opening debacle of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games? You had your choice between the needless death of an athlete and a megamillion Opening Ceremony which was an unsurpassed waste of money and time. It’s tragic, as capable people, like VanOC’s John Furlong, have given more than 7 years of their lives to getting and making the Games work for Vancouver.

I have watched Olympic Games since 1956 (and saw those in person, as well as on TV). As the decades have rolled by, there have been moments of disappointment and anger at the poor, commercially-driven coverage and lots more concerns, but ultimately it was always been out-weighed by the World coming together. The opportunities for the Youth to reach out to one another across Great Divides was what made it all worthwhile, as well as bearing witness to amazing physical prowess and accomplishment.

Undoubtedly, this Vancouver Winter Games will share those wonderful athletic moments, but I have to say the replay of what happened to Nodar Kumaritashvili, the 21 year old Georgian luge athlete, was a scene which will remain in my memory. His was a needless death. The Olympic Games have been remarkably free of death and permanent physical injury. But in this 21st. Winter Olympiad, I’m worried. Why?

The reports of the 2 year old luge course at Whistler, BC is that they already know it is super-treacherous. The German engineers (probably with computerized assistance) have designed too difficult a course, even for well-prepared top-tier luge athletes, who also have worries about certain parts of the course.

The current male World Champion barely made it through and stated his concern. The Australian female luge athlete Hannah Campbell-Pegg, who nearly crashed on Thursday, said the athletes were being treated as crash-dummy testers!

And the lower-tier participants, from less well equipped countries, are a concern for everyone, especially if they are very much less-experienced — just coming for the love-of-sport to represent their country. Nodar was the son of a 2-time Olympic luger, already; he had enjoyed luge all his life with his father at his side. Nodar was seeded 44th in the world, so he certainly was competent, but the course “beat” him.

Luge is already really dangerous; it always has been, and the athletes understand and respect that.

But, I think at Whistler, the engineers and those who approved the course design, have wanted themselves to “trump” the athletes — that’s tragedy in the making, and now one man IS dead.

As the luge competition begins today, just as I have been writing, the another Georgian luger has been whisked away to hospital as he could not compete being so distraught after the death of his life-long friend, Nodar. At this time, his fate is unknown.

I personally don’t know how any athlete in the sport is supposed to be mentally-ready to meet the challenge of that course. No-one has said there’s any thought of postponement, as the bobsledders will use the same dangerous track, and people who have tickets may not be able to see the event at all, later, having to return home on schedule etc.

Once the sections of the track showed the danger zones, the currently bare steel poles and other safety hazards should have been padded and also padded barriers erected — and whatever else needed to have been done, should have been done. Period.

So, basically, there’s just time to make a few adjustments to the outer edges of the course to hopefully make it safer. It should already have been done. Now, if their course starting point adjustment doesn’t do the trick, they should airlift the luge and bobsled teams and officials to Salt Lake City, if they kept their course, or to the next nearest safer Olympic caliber course. Period.

To me, it looked like the walls of the track should have been higher, but maybe there are criteria which they met. I would think old parameters don’t apply at the too-high speeds on this course. Did anyone redo the math?

Having seen how little containment the walls gave Nodar, it makes me wonder whether the regulation parameters need to be rethought. Traveling and hurling with no brakes at 90 miles an hour, one has to be concerned only for the athletes.

Has anyone checked the quality of the gear of each athlete? Has industry made safety equipment which is up to the task and have all kinds of body-area protection been designed and made? I don’t know, but someone in the sport should be re-assessing. So far officials at the World Luge Federation have showed no courage. They showed up for 45 minutes and stated the course was safe. What a crass attitude, even the reporter said they were inept to make that judgment so quickly.

In an interview with one of the young American snowboarders, an Olympic veteran, she mentioned a spine-protector. I’d like to know how many sports require those to be used, and how much neck protection is afforded by their helmets.

Nodar unfortunately ejected from the track near the bottom of the course, where it’s the fastest and most impossibly designed. He tumbled head-over-heels to land with his head onto / against an unprotected steel pole, possibly a light standard meant to help him see the course, or one which supports the trough. They did “heart compression” on him, and there was blood everywhere, so I am not sure exactly what injuries he sustained, but he never had a chance with a course gone wrong. Shame on poor decisions, Canada.

I hope there have been no more poor decisions.

Now, onto the XXI Winter Olympiad Opening Ceremony. I’ve been geographically close to at least 6 Olympic Games. All were within one day’s driving for me — and I never went to 5 of them, because I see more and better on TV. I also think the tickets need to go to locals who have footed the huge tax bills and inconvenience and to distant travelers, first. And, over time, the Olympics have become too commercial and too expensive.

I can visit these cities anytime (and have, in some cases repeatedly). In North America, Squaw Valley was the closest to me at the time, then next would be Vancouver and Los Angeles and Salt Lake City (which are equidistant from where I was living at the time) and finally a one+ day journey to Calgary. Four Winter and two Summer Olympics including the one in my city-of-birth, Melbourne, Australia in 1956, where I had but to go from neighborhood to neighborhood.

I also traveled to Montreal, after the Games there. So, I have seen many of the venues used over nearly 5 decades, and feel I can make educated comments and comparisons in those places to Vancouver, now. Every time, I watch a huge percentage of the TV coverage, in all the sports.

Vancouver has striven in a wide variety of ways to make these Olympic Games stellar, and I wish the City the best, but it has always been an expensive town, and I worry that it has kept the doors closed to many.

Corporate sponsorship comes now at greater and greater price, and potentially even as Influence. Whatever happened, in regard to the Opening Ceremonies, VanOC did not use the cultural or monetary resources well. Hopefully, this is not a portent.

It was smart to hold the Opening Ceremony inside a stadium, as Vancouver is rainy in winter, and it was smart to have an outdoor Olympic Flame, where everyone in the City could measure the experience. It was great that the planners included multi-generations of accomplished Canadians – athletes and artists and business people, of both genders — to bring in the Olympic Flag. And it was marvelous for Canada to embark on the longest Olympic Torch-relay ever — for more than 12,000 miles, the Olympic Flame was carried by about 2,000 people in 100 different modes of transportation to more than 1,000 Canadian towns, including all of the Far North. That’s the best! It really made it Canada’s Games!

But, that’s where the smarts end. For those who paid $800 for a ticket to the Opening Ceremonies, I hope you feel you got your money’s worth. I don’t think you did.

There are around 630 different aboriginal First Nation tribes in Canada. For the first time in any Olympic Games, the 5 tribes whose traditional lands are being used for the Olympic Games, were given a place at the table — planning, advising, profiting with jobs, especially the artists, and that’s to VanOC’s and Canada’s credit. I certainly hope that the tradition will be followed again, and even expanded at other Games.

But, how the tribes were used in the Opening Ceremony, the theme of the event and how the money was spent on very confusing technological sets is all up for critical review. So here it is!

It was shameless to have an nameless horde of First Nations dancers having to be in constant motion for at least 75 minutes, while the global teams took the center stage as they entered one after the other. The tribes were there, but were almost invisible and certainly they were over-shadowed.

Showcasing Canada through the use of the culture of its native peoples tied to their geography would have been fascinating and informative. Letting us see their native dress in a meaningful way, instead of a no-introduction format, and hearing the other tribes’ words of welcome or wisdom, would have been better than the mishmash that happened.

And, the 70 holographic-type projectors’ contribution, the bulk of the entertainment, was a disaster. I would at least have liked to see a revolving band of the names of the First Nation tribes, up at the ceiling edge as a chance to learn more about them. Only the host tribes had a one-minute chance to greet.

The projected designs which were used were confusing and would have likely elicited epileptic seizures in susceptible people. It was also crude, boring, unaesthetically pleasing, contrived and a whole lot more. I cannot think of but two floor patterns I enjoyed and nothing that “rose” or “towered” from the floor or expanded over the white-cloaked audience (although the idea of that was brilliant).

The designer wanted the experience to be “intimate”, unlike the Chinese spectacular, but he couldn’t make it happen.

Everyone knows that the Chinese Government footed an obscene bill for the ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics, heedlessly taking food and money for help after Sichuan’s devastating earthquake (just prior to the Games) away from its People’s future well-being. That should never be repeated, and wisely, Vancouver spent 1/10 as much — but, unfortunately, got very little for the $30 – $40 million dollars spent on the Vancouver Opening Ceremony.

After watching 5 decades of Olympics, this was the worst Opening Ceremony, ever. Sorry, but that’s true. So many wonderful opportunities missed, and I came away with a hodgepodge of mangled images and no coherent understanding of Canada — which was the opposite of the goal they wanted.

I hope that we will learn more about the First Nations peoples and I hope TV visitors will see the beautiful art pieces they contributed in Vancouver, and that we’ll learn more about Canada than just seeing British Columbia’s beautiful scenery on less characteristic sunny, clear days. We’ll have to wait for more.

I hope the Games will be better done than what they’ve been so far.

Periodically, over the next days, I’m going back to my Vancouver gourmet food series and will only mention the actual Games or needed Vancouver news when appropriate. I am not covering the Olympics in detail, as plenty of others will cover that, and everything about them will be old news soon enough.

Take care.

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