- The Washington Times - Monday, February 15, 2010

Tragedy. Protests. Bad weather. Mechanical malfunctions.

The first few days of the XXI Winter Olympics had it all. Unfortunately, “it” wasn’t what organizers had envisioned.

While the Vancouver organizers had the venues ready in plenty of time for the opening of the XXI Winter Olympics and expected to sell out all 1.6 million tickets, events out of their control got the games off to a rough start.

On Friday, the opening ceremony was overshadowed by the tragic death of Georgian athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili, who died in an accident at the Whistler Sliding Center just hours before the flames were lit at both the BC Place arena and Vancouver’s waterfront.

Mechanical problems marred the ceremony, when one of the pieces of the cauldron failed to materialize out of the floor of the indoor stadium. The awkward, nationally televised moment left four of Canada’s greatest athletes grimacing at what to do next.

Then, Saturday morning in a posh shopping area in downtown Vancouver, the department store housing the official Olympic store was vandalized with paint and shattered windows by a group of around 200 protesters, as police say one masked protester threatened passers-by with chains on his knuckles.

On top of that, rain and the warm weather at Whistler postponed the first two alpine events back to Monday.

It certainly wasn’t the start the organizers had hoped for on all fronts, although they hope the Olympics get back on its feet as the event gets into full swing this week.

“We have contingencies in plan for all kinds of things,” said Mark Adams, communications director for the International Olympic Committee. “The demonstrations I would characterize as being minor and dealt with properly. We dont have an issue with that.”

The Vancouver police certainly weren’t making light of the protests, in which seven were arrested for various offenses.

“About half the group today were criminals intent on committing violent acts including damage to property, including assaulting passers-by,” Vancouver Chief Constable Jim Chu told the Vancouver Sun. “Because of those actions … the Vancouver police commander on the scene decided to move in and make arrests.”

Seventy-five miles to the north in Whistler, the close-knit community of lugers was still shaken by the sudden death of 21-year-old Mr. Kumaritashvili, and officials had to make some changes to improve on the track’s safety to prevent another horrific scene that was played on NBC’s coverage Friday night.

“It’s still fresh in our hearts,” India’s Shiva Keshavan told the Associated Press. “We’re not able to compete with that same joy.”

Compounding the problems at the skiing venue are the warm temperatures, which are expected to persist over the next few days, with temperatures reaching the mid 40s and rain forecast for Sunday and Tuesday to further complicate a compressed alpine schedule.

So, after a rough start, organizers hope the Olympics get their traction — and a bit more luck — in the next few days.

“The Games are under way … and I think youll see over the next few days that will just take off and I think people will really enjoy the Games,” Mr. Adams said.