Monday, February 15, 2010

Mike Smyth's Column in today's Province

Cypress venue 'woefully inadequate'

Michael Smyth, The Province

Published: Monday, February 15, 2010

Three-hour lineups. Desperate shortages of food and drink. Nowhere to escape the lashing wind and rain.

For North Vancouver's Sally Roth, her "Olympic experience" on Cypress Mountain left much to be desired.

"Woefully inadequate," is how the personnel-agency owner described her weekend visit to the troubled Olympic venue. "I just kept wondering: 'What are all these international visitors thinking of us?'"

It wasn't a picture-perfect event for Cypress spectators, who faced three-hour lineups in the rain with little food or shelter.View Larger Image View Larger Image

It wasn't a picture-perfect event for Cypress spectators, who faced three-hour lineups in the rain with little food or shelter.

Roth's Olympic nightmare began Saturday, when she and her husband, Don, took one of the required bus trips to the venue for a scheduled skiing event.

She was prepared for the cold-and-wet conditions -- but not for the hours-long wait for the competition to start with little food, water or shelter to sustain them.

"There was one warming tent -- the only place where you could escape the elements -- and it was jammed. So I decided to get a hot drink and something to eat. I stood in line for three hours, only to find out they had run out of most food items.

"At one point, an official told us all to disperse and get to our seats. Some people refused to leave the lineup because they were so hungry and thirsty. I saw one woman with two little children. They were so miserable, they left."

It was a similar experience for Michael Geller, a Vancouver architect and professor at Simon Fraser University.

"They simply don't have the facilities to accommodate the crowds," he said. "Not enough shelter, nowhere for people to sit down. Even a coffee cart or hotdog stand would have helped."

Both Geller and Roth said they don't like to complain -- that's just not the Canadian way -- but it really was that bad.

"The warming tent was so full, I tried to take shelter under the stands, but that was no better," Geller said. "So I went back to the tent, but one of the heating fans had broken. So I decided to get a coffee, but that would have meant hours in line.

"I finally left and watched it on TV."

VANO C spokeswoman Renee Smith-Valade blamed the problems on a temporary power failure at the site that hampered the preparation of hot food and beverages.

She said officials were scrambling Sunday to improve conditions at the site, with more food and additional shelter tents being contemplated.

"We're looking at changes to make it more efficient," she said of the Cypress venue, already controversial for the shortage of snow that had organizers worried.

It appears they solved the snow problems -- but forgot about taking care of the people coming out to watch the show.

"Cypress is like your 'special child' " Smith-Valade said with a sigh. "Your special child that's bright and talented and good-looking -- and causes you all kinds of worries. But they're still your special child. That's what Cypress is."

But Roth and Geller aren't buying the power-failure excuse, or the suggestion that Cypress poses "special" challenges that are difficult to overcome.

"Even without the power failure, there still would have been terrible lineups and no shelter," Roth said. "I think they simply didn't plan it out properly."

Geller has advice for people heading to the venue in the days ahead: "Dress warmly. Wear boots. Bring a cushion for the seats because the benches are cold, hard and wet.

"And bring some food and a hot Thermos full of coffee and maybe some amaretto."

When I reminded him that spectators aren't allowed to bring their own food and drinks into the venue -- not even water -- he suggested that people break the rules.

"The officials were so confused up there, they weren't even checking people. And even if they did, I don't think they'd have the heart to stop anyone."

Or, better yet, VANOC could try to make this venue more comfortable for people who spent hundreds of dollars on their Olympic experience.

It's time for them to fix this venue. Right now.

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