August 2, 2015


By Randy Turner

Print Stories

Snow problem; send Olys to 'Peg

Left Coast Games look a tad too green

VANCOUVER -- Um, this is the Winter Olympics, right?

Just askin'. I mean, when you're plunked on a patch of bright green grass just outside the Olympic Village in downtown Vancouver, watching joggers wearing T-shirts trot past and cyclists in shorts, the optics can play tricks with your mind.

The temperature on Tuesday, with a rare day of brilliant sunshine, reached into the double figures.

After all, the calendar might say early February, but your mind is telling you this is an early morning tee-off at Breezy Bend. Or a cool summer night at Clear Lake. The hotel pool is filled with water. Sure, there's a waft of steam coming off in the morning. But, dude, it's WATER.

True story: It was colder for the first few days of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Australia, when two sneaky Free Press reporters "borrowed" a utility heater for their room in the Media Village... without telling the gang from China next door. Ahem.

True story No. 2: A TV reporter just arrived the other day from Tampa Bay. He lands in Vancouver. Same temperature.

Crocus buds are blossoming. Small wonder a rube from Manitoba is a little bewildered.

The irony is that in environmentally conscious British Columbia, they were billing this as the "Green Games". But an El Nino-type weather system off the Pacific this winter resulted in record high temperatures in January.

"When I got off the airplane, it was like, 'What's this green grass doing here? This is the Winter Olympics,'" U.S. speedskater Trevor Marsicano told the AP on Sunday. "For me, it's nice, because I'm used to, like, zero degrees. This is awesome."

Awesome? Well, maybe.

But don't tell them that at Cypress Mountain, home of the moguls and snowboarding, where crews have been working furiously for the last month just to fabricate a run out of snow dumped by trucks and helicopters, surrounded by dirt.

"It's not so much the warm weather; it's the wind that does the most damage," explained John Furlong, executive director of VANOC, the Games organizing committee. "We may get help from Mother Nature, but we're not counting on it. The team is calculating what they have to do. The effort for the past 10 days has been superhuman. They've moved an extraordinary amount of snow."

But for a stranger who lives in a place where daily warnings that exposed skin will freeze within three minutes are routine, where speedskating competitions could be held on city streets after a snowstorm, there's an underlying impression that the good folks at the International Olympic Committee have no clue what winter really means.

In fact, let's imagine the impossible: a Winter Games in Winnipeg.

Why not? We've got an arena. We've got the odd curling rink around town. We've got cross-country ski trails. We could carve the half-pipe out of that giant mountain of snow off McPhillips.

And they could build an indoor oval, too. Might as well, since almost half the speedskaters come from Manitoba anyway -- and grew up skating outdoors in February, too, for the record.

Let's have a real Winter Games. In a place where the biggest weather concern isn't too much rain.

Sure, there could be drawbacks. Mass hypothermia. Frostbite. Maybe a few long-distance cross-country skiers never coming back. Maybe a few ski jumpers shattering like icicles upon landing.

But at least it would be genuine. Not some namby-pamby Games where you go golfing or in-line skating on a day off. Because what's happening in Vancouver these days is not unusual for the Olympics.

In Calgary in 1988, the bobsled competition was postponed when the track melted. At the 1964 Games in Innsbruck, the Austrian army carved 20,000 blocks of ice from a mountainside and transported it to the luge and bobsled tracks. The Austrians also carried 1.4 million cubic feet of snow to the Alpine ski slopes.

Hey, do you know what they call moving 1.4 million cubic feet of snow in Winnipeg in February? Answer: Wednesday.

OK, OK. We don't have mountain ranges. No Alps, no Rockies. That's the fly in the ointment.

Too bad. Because if you had a Winter Games in Winnipeg, at least there wouldn't be any confusion. No one would be asking, "Hey, what's the green grass doing here?"

They would be asking, "What does 'frostbite warning' mean?"

Or if they asked, "Is that the luge track?", we'd reply, "No, that's Pembina Highway. The luge is only one lane."

You know, a real Winter Olympics.

In a place where the snow gets trucked away, not to.

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 11, 2010 C5

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