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Two burning headaches for Vancouver guests, city planners

- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 20, 2010

VANCOUVER | At an Olympics where writers from around the world are taking their shots at organizers, even one of the games' sacred symbols is a source for contention.

While Vancouver organizers took the unusual step of having two different cauldrons around the city for this year's games -- an homage to the Calgary Olympics held in 1988 where two flames were used -- this year, one is completely invisible to the public and the other is housed in front of an unsightly fence.

The main torch, which was finally lit after a malfunction during the opening ceremony at BC Place Stadium, is now hidden from the public.

Observers expected the flame wouldn't be visible from the outside the domed stadium. But the symbol of the games is under wraps, of sorts, to attendees of the nightly victory ceremonies in BC Place, as it is hidden behind a large curtain and under a white contraption.

The second torch, lit by hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, is housed several blocks away from the stadium and next to the Vancouver Convention Centre on Coal Harbour -- what normally would be a nice setting on what normally would be a picturesque view in front of the water and the mountains surrounding the city. It certainly is a strange placement for the flame, as Los Angeles, Atlanta and Salt Lake City elevated their cauldrons to be visible from a good distance.

The flame, however, is low to the ground and surrounded by a chain-link fence, a byproduct of the second torch's location being kept secret until the day of the opening ceremony. Fans wanting a photograph near it run the risk of looking encarcerated.

As a partial concession to complaints, organizers this week cut a small foot-high hole in the fence to allow fans to shove their hands and cameras through and opened up an elevated spot that leads to an unobstructed view. But on the ground it is difficult to get a pose in front of the torch without the ugly fence, and fans are still forced to wait in lines of up to 45 minutes during certain hours to get a better view -- with the less-picturesque Convention Centre in the background.