Even before the Winter Games began on February 12, disaster had already struck.
Nodar Kumaritashvili, a 21-year-old luger from Georgia, died after a horrifying accident during a training session at the Whistler Sliding Centre in Whistler, B.C. Heading into the final turn of the course, Kumaritashvili lost control of his sled and was sent flying over the sidewall of the track into an unprotected metal pole. He was moving at 90 mph during the crash, and his death was instant.
Kumaritashvili was honored during the opening ceremonies. A moment of silence was then held before the first heat of the men’s luge competition, and many observers hoped that better fortunes would lie ahead for the upcoming weeks of competition.
But they were wrong. Aside from the Olympic caldron fiasco during the opening ceremonies, the combination of bad weather and injuries due to difficulty and tough course conditions has characterized the Vancouver Olympics thus far.
Excess rain immediately forced three consecutive days of training cancellations on the ski slopes. Of the first seven scheduled training sessions for men’s and women’s downhill skiers, only one training session (the men’s downhill) was completed. That session was on February 11, before the Olympics games began. Even in that scenario, the slushy conditions forced the skiers to train on a condensed version of the course. Since the main events can’t occur until the entire group of skiers get at least a training session in, both men’s and women’s downhill skiing events were postponed to later dates.
On Sunday, the weather was ten degrees Celsius and is expected to reach up to 12 degrees by next week.
When temperatures cooled shortly after the initial cancellations, it made the ski hills too icy and slippery for the various skiing events. As a result, many skiers fell during their Olympic runs. In the women’s downhill event on February 17, as many as eight racers were unable to finish the race. Most of those were due to falls.
Canadian skier and medal favorite Manuel Osborne Paradis along with fellow Canadian veteran skier Emily Brydon both took potentially dangerous falls, shattering their chances of winning a medal on their home soil.
Swedish veteran ski racer Patrik Jaerbyn and Romanian Edith Miklos were both airlifted to the hospital after their devastating crashes. Miklos lost control and crashed through the course fences while 40-year-old Jaerbyn landed awkwardly after hitting a gate near the end of his race. Jaerbyn suffered a medium concussion during the fall and was released from hospital the day after.
In cross-country skiing, Slovenian star Petra Majdic fell and tumbled down a three-metre bank during training sessions, landing into a tree base. She suffered four broken ribs, a punctured lung and was forced to compete in immense pain. Notably during her qualification run in the cross-country sprint, she immediately dropped to the ground and screamed in tremendous pain after crossing the finish line. The medical staff aided her off the course shortly after. Amazingly, she ended up playing through the pain and miraculously won the bronze medal in the event.
To add to the turmoil, poor ice conditions at the Richmond Olympic Oval forced several lengthy delays in several speed skating events. A zamboni spill midway through the men’s 500m race resulted in an hour and a half delay and almost caused the event to be postponed for another day.
Because of these numerous troubles, many are considering these Olympics to be one of the worst ever. General Manager of the USA National Hockey Team and the Toronto Maple Leafs Brian Burke took a stance against the critics.
“I’ve been to four Winter Olympics. This is the best one I’ve been to in terms of organization. You’re going to have glitches in an event this size,” said Burke. “With this many people, logistical things with multiple venues, you’re going to have glitches. I don’t know why people are whining about it.”
Regardless of the difficulties, the events have been very entertaining and the Canadian faithful has done a tremendous job in supporting their athletes. May the final week run smoothly and otherwise cap off a very memorable Olympic games.