Problems galore for London Olympics? Hey, we've seen this movie before
With four days to go, the headlines were brutal.
“Olympic track in no condition for the big race,” read the headline in the Olympia Oracle, explaining how a freak rainstorm had turned the foot race course for the first-ever Olympics into a quagmire.
Elsewhere, a controversy was brewing over the olive oil to be used in the naked wrestling competition.
“Greek crop weak,” screamed the Oracle, going on to tell its readers that Olympic organizers might, gulp, be forced to import inferior oil from Italy.
Fast forward some 2,800 years. The media frenzy in advance of the Sydney Summer Olympics was slightly larger and just a bit more worldwide than it was for the first-ever Olympic Games. One of the big topics was how the beach volleyball stadium at Bondi Beach (see photo with Richard Branson and some, uh, friends) was going to ruin one of Sydney’s top attractions, which was lunacy.
Four years later in Athens, the alarm bells were ringing in regards to the late construction schedule. In Vancouver for 2010, there were concerns about Mother Nature.
It has ever been thus. For weeks – no, make that years – the focus is all about a city or a country getting ready for the Olympics. The euphoria of the winning city announcement is quickly replaced by a sense of concern about roads that need to be built or subways that need expanding or building the stadiums that everyone assures taxpayers will be put to “absolutely marvelous” uses once the five-ring circus has left town.
For years, the Olympics media has nothing really positive to write about. It’s all preparation and security costs and budget overruns. And it happens in every city for every Olympics, because the media abhors a vacuum (we also abhor high beer prices at Olympic venues but that’s another story). Plus, we just love to write woe is us or, even better, woe is you stories.
You could set your watch by the oh-so-predictable pattern of these things. On Friday, the day of the Opening Ceremonies at the London Games, British tabloids will be filled with more impending doom stories about rain and unprepared security workers and probably even a story that quotes a British betting house on the odds of a plague of locusts landing on the head of Queen Elizabeth during the torch lighting ceremony. By Sunday it will mostly be forgotten because the media will be out watching cyclists racing and kayakers paddling and badminton types shuttlecocking, which is possibly why the media always feels obliged to write about the free condoms they tend to give out at the athletes village.
There will be still be a good deal of self analysis and daily quotes on the weekend from angry cabbies who don’t like the fact that Olympic poo-bahs from all over the world and scruffy sports reporters from Toronto get preferential lanes on impossibly crowded London streets while they suffer through nightmare traffic jams. Not to mention stories about when it will finally feel like summer in London, the answer to which is why worry about something you’ve never had?
As many of us recall from the Vancouver Games, the Brits were horribly hard on Canadian organizers in the early days of the 2010 Winter Olympics. The tragic accident on the sliding track at Whistler and the lack of snow on the mountains in Vancouver and the bus breakdowns were highlighted with what seemed like an extra serving of cold-hearted glee. It probably was, but I always thought Vancouver folks took it too personally.
As Canadians we likely read a bit of “ah, these rubes in the colonies don’t quite know what they’re doing” angle to things. In fact, I suspect the British tabs are just as adept at poking holes in just about every organization that runs just about any high-profile event in the world, whether it's an Olympic Games, a Euro Cup or one of the four dozen G-20 summits that seem to be held every year to absolutely no effect.
Still, one does hope that they’ll be just as vicious and catty when it comes to critiquing the work of London organizer (and British sporting hero) Sebastian Coe as they were in flailing away at Vancouver chief bottle washer John Furlong, who looked positively sick with worry for a few days before B.C. - and Canada - hit the big rebound.
Either way, at least come the weekend we can dispense with most of the items about folks in suits and ties and dig into stories about the real stars of the show.