Three days to go - three headaches remain

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By Paul Radford

Unseasonably mild weather causing snow shortages is the main worry but the threat of protesters disrupting the opening ceremony and early events and the lingering jinx of Canada never winning a gold medal as Olympic hosts are also concerns.

Publicly, organizers are making brave noises on all three fronts and seem confident that by the first day of competition on Saturday they will no longer need to be taking their tablets.

The contrast of severe snow blizzards on North America's Atlantic coast and unusually warm weather on the Pacific side of the continent has left Vancouver itself bereft of snow, an unusual situation for a Winter Olympics host city.

While there is abundant snow at the Whistler mountain venue some 125 kms (80 miles) away, there is barely snow at all at Cypress Mountain on Vancouver's northern shore.


Cypress Mountain, where freestyle skiing and snowboarding are being staged, was opened to the media for the first time on Tuesday, revealing a venue that looked like a construction site and sounded like a war zone, according to one Reuters reporter.

Moguls skiers were able to ski on imported snow brought in by trucks and helicopters from higher up the mountains but there were bare rocks and mud in the spectator areas.

But athletes seemed happy enough. "The course is good, the snow is interesting," said Vincent Marquis of Canada. "It's in between slushy and real snow. We've trained in the past for this."

Organizers are confident that protesters who plan to make their presence felt in Vancouver outside Friday's opening ceremony and during the first day of competition on Saturday would not cause disruption to the Games (February 12-28).

Local protesters say the money spent on the Games would have been better used on social issues such as homelessness and poverty.

Hundreds of anti-globalization protesters are also expected to come in from outside Vancouver but senior Games official Dave Cobb said the police are well prepared. "Security forces are ready to react in case they break the law," he said.

Canadians are hoping the team's athletes are ready to end the jinx which has seen Canada fail to win a gold medal in two previous Games as hosts -- the Montreal Summer Olympics in 1976 and the Winter Games in Calgary in 1988.

"We'd really like to get that monkey off our back," said Games chief John Furlong.

Canada have gold medal prospects in at least three events on Saturday with downhiller Manuel Osborne-Paradis, moguls skier Jenn Heil and short tracker Charles Hamelin among the favorites in their respective events so the expectation is that the jinx could end on day one.


The International Olympic Committee (IOC) was meanwhile issuing a stern warning to prospective drugs cheats, saying that on top of 2,100 urine and blood tests at the Games, they would freeze samples for later testing using methods that are still being developed.

IOC medical commission chief Arne Ljungqvist said new tests would be ready within months for new substances which are rumored to be being used illegally by athletes.

Six athletes, including one gold medalist, were retrospectively punished after the 2008 Beijing Games when frozen samples were re-tested for the blood-boosting CERA substance.

The decision means that 21 teams will now take part in the competition.

(Editing by Jon Bramley).