Mercury News Columnist
SOCHI, Russia -- The Winter Olympics is approaching a snow problem. No problem, say the Games organizers.
Except it is a problem. The Games are not yet melting. I can confidently report that. But they are getting pretty mushy.
Not the entire Games, of course. Some of the snow at some of the venues is acceptable. Some of it is even sort of good. And it's no issue at the indoor venues, of course. But back when Sochi was awarded the 2010 Winter Games, everyone knew that other than security people, the most nervous folks would be thermometer watchers. The forecast was accurate.
The Sochi area, located on the Black Sea, has a sub-tropical climate. Palm trees line the streets. At the main Olympic Park where the indoor venues are built, temperatures have hovered mostly in the 50's. The high was 61 on Monday. Thirty miles away at mountain venues, the temps have been a little colder, in the 40's. But still above freezing.
Tuesday, organizers altered the halfpipe competition schedule, moving a session from 2:30 p.m. until after dark. That way, the snow/ice would have an easier time staying frozen in the semicircular bowl where snowboarders gather momentum to perform their tricks above the halfpipe rim.Chemicals were also mixed with the snow/ice to make it coagulate faster.
Before those decisions were made, reviews of the halfpipe venue were definitely not good. Danny Davis, an American boarder, called the conditions "garbage" after a Monday training session. His teammate, Hannah Teeter, said: "It's dangerous because it's crappy." The red-haired eminence of American snowboarding, Shaun White, observed: "The flat bottom is just sand and mush."
Sand and mush? What sand and mush? That was pretty much the attitude of Sochi and Games officials when they were asked about the situation on Tuesday morning.
One of my favorite things at any Olympics is to attend press conferences where the big honchos try to deny things we can see with our own eyes. That happened again Tuesday morning when Mark Adams, spokesman for the International Olympic Committee, was asked about the halfpipe issues.
"It is freezing overnight," Adams said. "It is a little warm and that is causing one or two problems . . . There is always a problem when it is a little bit warmer. There is no problem at all with the halfpipe itself, it is just that these are dynamic living fields of play."
What a wonderful phrase. I believe it was the same terminology that was used in Seattle when there was civil disturbance after the Super Bowl: Hey, it was just a dynamic living field of play.
But the eloquent Adams was not finished.
"All of these snow venues here," he continued, "are such that they need to make normal adjustments. But there are no suggestions whatsoever there is anything wrong with the halfpipe and most of the athletes who have expressed an opinion are very happy."
Adams then mentioned that said the IOC has been monitoring all athletes' Tweets and social media posts from the Games and has detected overwhelmingly positive emotion. In a word cloud the IOC created, "there are no negative words." Adam said.
So apparently, the IOC has blocked Davis and Teeter and White.
Also appearing at the press session was Alexandra Kosterina, an obviously sharp woman who has been charged with the unenviable task of speaking for the local organizing committee, which has battled some preparation issues with accomodations, as you may have heard. When a reporter asked Kosterina about the halfpipe problem, Kosterina did not seem perturbed.
"With the Winter Games, there is always an impact with the weather conditions," she said.
This is a correct statement. Four years ago, there were snow issues in Vancouver, for the same reasons. The Canadian coastal city has a moderate climate. The Alpine skiing events took place in Whistler, more than an hour's bus ride away up in the mountains where things were much colder. But the freestyle skiing and snowboard venues were built at too low an altitude. Slush prevailed. Spectators slipped and fell. Hay was strewn to provide more stable footing.
Sochi organizers supposedly went to school on that situation, to avoid any mush crisis at any of the snow venues..
"We do have a strong contingency plan in place," Kosterina said. "We developed a special program two years ago that included several measures. One of them was the snow preservation, that saw the snow stored from the previous season in insulation materials. Certainly the production of the snow was also one of them."
Have the organizers utilized any of that stored-away snow?
"We did," said Kosterina.
This week? Or before the Games began?
"Before," she said.
What about now?
"We will have another presser this week with people who can discuss that," she said.
Can't wait. Meanwhile, organizers are saying, you will enjoy your mush and you will like it.
On a dynamic living field of play.