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Tracee Hamilton - Sports Columnist

From the hidden cauldron to the wicked weather, it's the Olympic flame-out in Vancouver

Enjoy an up close and personal look at the action in Canada.

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By Tracee Hamilton
Wednesday, February 17, 2010

VANCOUVER, B.C.

Oy, Canada!

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After just four days of competition, the Vancouver Games are veering off course like a skier who caught an edge. You might not have noticed it, hunkered down back home, praying for spring. But the Games you see on TV sometimes don't reflect the real Games, those Games experienced by the host nation's residents, the spectators, the visiting dignitaries, who often outnumber the first two groups, and the media.

There have been equipment malfunctions and weather issues and ticket cancellations and safety problems. Of course, all of them are nothing compared to the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili on Friday. That tragedy can't be laid at the door of Canadian organizers.

But the percolating cauldron controversy can and should. Remember that lovely outdoor cauldron that Canadian god Wayne Gretzky lit Friday night after the Opening Ceremony? I'm sure you all can see it during NBC's coverage every night, because it's visible from the International Broadcast Center, a.k.a. 30 Rock North.

However, Canadians can't see it. It's behind the media security perimeter and an unsightly chain link fence. It turns out that despite record turnout for the torch relay, organizers were still surprised to discover that visiting fans as well as Canadians might actually want to take photos with the cauldron or just make pilgrimages to the cauldron, which after all was touched by the Great One.

The cauldron issue bubbled over (really) during Tuesday's International Olympic Committee media briefing in Vancouver. Renee Smith Valade, spokesman for the local organizing committee, finally admitted that organizers perhaps had made a mistake, a landmark statement for the relentlessly positive Valade, with whom I would never trade jobs.

"Perhaps we underestimated the degree people would want to get close to it," Valade cautiously admitted.

Ironically, the complaints about these Games began with another cauldron. Because the Opening Ceremony was held indoors for the first time, organizers had two cauldrons, an Indoor Cauldron at BC Place and the somewhat unsightly Outdoor Cauldron, under lockdown at the Vancouver waterfront. (Having indoor/outdoor cauldrons is like having indoor/outdoor carpeting -- make up your mind -- but whatever.)

The Indoor Cauldron suffered a malfunction during the lighting ceremony when one of four "arms" failed to rise, leaving poor Catriona Le May Doan standing on the BC Place floor all lit up with nowhere to go. (Why they didn't have her light one of the three functioning arms along with, say, Steve Nash, I do not understand.)

That was the beginning. Then the weather began to play havoc with the Alpine schedule, wiping out the first two races on the opening weekend of the games as well as a slew of training runs, which are necessary in order to hold actual races.

Of course, the organizing committee isn't responsible for controlling the weather -- only Beijing officials even attempted that -- but Whistler has long had a dicey reputation. World Cup events scheduled there were canceled for three consecutive years because of snow and fog.


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