Worst Olympics ever? 12 epic Vancouver blunders

Is Vancouver 2010 setting a new standard for how messed up the Games can get?

Views of Olympic cauldron are marred by a large chain-link fence.
(Image credit: Corbis)

Canada may have won its first home gold medal, but its Winter Games are in danger of garnering a far less prestigious distinction: the worst Olympics ever. From the controversial death of an athlete to endless organizational mishaps, the Games of XXI Winter Olympiad has begun to feel like a blooper reel. In the words of Deadspin's Dashiell Bennett: "This Olympics sucks." Here, a look at the dozen biggest mishaps in Vancouver:

The tragic death of an athlete...

The first week of the Games was overshadowed by Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili's death during a training run at the Whistler track.

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... is met with a "callous" official response...

Olympic officials treated Kumaritashvili's death "less as a tragedy than as an inconvenience," says Jere Longman in The New York Times. A "callous statement" from the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VOC) laid blame on the 21-year-old's mistakes and ignored claims the track was dangerous and that there ought to have been a crash wall in the spot where he died.

... from authorities who knew of the danger...

Reportedly, numerous Olympic lugers alerted officials to the fact that the track was dangerous. In fact, there was specific concern for the safety of Kumaritashvili (who expressed trepidation about the track to his father) and a few others.

... but were more worried with Canada's medal count.

In a "sinister" attempt to create a hometeam advantage — an initiative called "Own the Podium" — Canadian officials denied foreign competitors the right to practice much on the luge course. When he died, Kumaritashvili had taken only a tenth as many trips down the luge track as his Canadian rivals.

NBC plays the "snuff video." And replays it. And replays it.

"America's Olympic Network" soon came under fire for airing the graphic footage of Kumaritashvili's death "three times, twice in slow motion," according to Matthew T. Sussman at Blog Critics. Disturbing? Yes, indeed.

Two billion viewers suffer through a cauldron-lighting fiasco.

The lighting of the Olympic cauldron, traditionally the climatic moment of the opening ceremonies, was delayed by an "awkward 2-minute pause" when one of the four pillars of the structure didn't rise up out of the ground as planned. "Uh-oh, Canada," quips the Detroit Free Press.

An inspiring symbol of humanity — behind an ugly fence.

The organizing committee received a "flood of complaints" about positioning the Olympic cauldron "behind an ugly wire fence," reports AFP. Authorities have since created an "eye-level gap" in the barrier — but observers wonder why even this make-shift solution "took so long."

Vancouver gambles on Cypress Mountain. And loses.

You can't fault the organizing committee for a dry winter. But you can fault them for tempting fate by situating so many events at low-altitude Cypress Mountain, where snow conditions are always much spottier, says Doug Ward at the Vancouver Sun. Mother Nature called the VOC's bluff: A lack of snow at Cypress has delayed events and forced the committee to (after a quick about-face on refund policy) reimburse 28,000 ticket holders.

Wait, the buses are supposed to climb hills?

Transportation is one of the most foreseeable challenges at any Olympics — but Vancouver has still made a hash of it, reports Vicki Hall in the Ottawa Citizen. Buses carrying the Canadian women's moguls team broke down twice, and the VOC was forced to bring in 99 new buses after finding the original vehicles could not climb Cypress Mountain.

"Eco-Zambonis"? A noble, if very bad, idea.

An experiment with "green" ice-smoothing equipment proved disasterous when three of the exhaustless machines conked out in the middle of speed skating competition. "With athletes reaching speeds of 40 mph on the ice, the uneven surface was deemed too dangerous to go forward," says Mother Earth News. The event was delayed, and an old-fashioned eco-unfriendly Zamboni was rushed in from Calgary, 700 miles away.

NBC insists on tape delays — for a North American event.

American viewers are furious at NBC's decision to tape-delay much of the action and thereby spoil the suspense. After New York Times readers begged the newspaper not to post Olympic results in the intervening hours before NBC's broadcast, a sports editor quipped: "We’re not beholden to presenting the news the way NBC does."

The Olympics might crash the world economy.

As if Vancouver's woes weren't enough, it emerged this moth that Greece's economy was on the verge of imploding, in no small part due to its disastrous overspending on the 2004 games in Athens. Now, many are suggesting that Vancouver could suffer a similar fate.

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