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British media coverage angers Vancouver Olympics chief

James Pearce reports from Vancouver

BBC Sport's James Pearce on the problems which have plagued Vancouver

A leading Olympic official has hit out at sections of the British media for their coverage of the Vancouver Games.

Organisers have been criticised for the way they have run the Games and also came under fire in the wake of the death of luger Nodar Kumaritashvili.

Games chief John Furlong told BBC Sport: "To read caustic and finger-pointing comments, you have to wonder what event they are really watching.

"They don't appear to be attending the same Olympic Games as everyone else."

The death of Georgian Kumaritashvili, who crashed into a steel pole at the Whistler Sliding Centre just hours before the opening ceremony, sent shockwaves around Canada and the world.

Full interview - Winter Olympics chief

However, the 21-year-old - along with every other non-Canadian athlete - was given limited access to the track considered to be the fastest and most dangerous in the world.

Although organisers immediately changed the starting position of the track, while the International Luge Federation will make adjustments to slow the track down, certain British newspapers believed the hosts were partly to blame for the tragedy.

Commenting on the "Own The Podium" campaign to make Canada the top sporting nation in the world by the 2010 Games, the Daily Mail said it "should not mean placing competitors in jeopardy, particularly in a sport in which fatalities have occurred, albeit infrequently".

James Pearce Blog

Meanwhile, the Guardian said the Games were in danger of being remembered as "the worst in Olympic history".

However, Furlong defended Vancouver's organising committee (Vanoc) and its reaction following Kumaritashvili's death.

"The day that happened was as heartbreaking a thing [as could happen], and I would say it was probably the only scenario that we were unprepared for," he said.

"I got that call that morning and I felt like I had a phone call saying that my son had been killed.

"As an organising committee we were mortified. The entire organisation, all 50,000 of us, went back on our heels and tried to figure out how we would manage from here.

A volunteer shovels snow on Cypress Mountain
The warm weather has forced organisers to postpone alpine races

"There's plenty of time to talk about the track when the Games are over. The way the track is put together is a very complex process, Vanoc and the IOC work in collaboration to deliver the venue that is designed.

"We went through that process and we built the track that everybody wanted us to build and we wanted to build. We had World Cups on it, we had practices on it, we had thousands of runs down the track.

"Our team have done everything they can to try to give them the venue that they wanted for the Games."

The Games have been plagued by weather problems as Vancouver, situated on the west coast of Canada, experiences its warmest winter in a century.

The temperate conditions have forced organisers to refund about £245,000 as snow melted on Cypress Mountain, leaving sections of the viewing areas unsafe.

"The fact that we've had the warmest January ever since we've been recording temperatures, it goes back 100 years - it's happening, what are we going to do about it?" said Furlong.

"We have fought the snow demons on that mountain and I think we're winning.

"There are some things we've had to do to protect the field of play, so that the athletes get to complete their competitions and have their Olympic dream.

I think Vanoc has been very open with us about the problems that they have encountered, but also we have seen the great successes of the Games

Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell

"I think it's too bad that people see it otherwise, we don't and frankly we're a little bit offended that they have taken the position they have."

Further problems have been encountered with the Olympic flame and the fence which surrounds it, with some spectators complaining the barriers are too far to view the cauldron.

"In order to put the cauldron where we did, we had to make sure we weren't going to compromise security for the building," said Furlong.

"Once we saw that (restricted view) was happening, we were trying to find a way to create a remedy and we've done that now, there's a wonderful viewing gallery right beside it and there's a space in the fence so you can take all the pictures you want."

Despite the media criticism, Britain's Olympic Minister Tessa Jowell, who is overseeing the country's strategy to host the 2012 Games in London, defended Vancouver's organisation.

"I think Vanoc has been very open with us about the problems that they have encountered, but also we have seen the great successes of the Games," she said.

"I think it is quite unfair to dwell on the problems. You know, on any event of this scale, of course there are bound to be problems."



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see also
Weather forces fans to stay home
15 Feb 10 |  Snowboarding
Men's downhill skiing postponed
13 Feb 10 |  Vancouver 2010
Women's combined event postponed
12 Feb 10 |  Alpine skiing
Luge tracks set to be made slower
15 Feb 10 |  Luge
German Loch wins luge gold medal
15 Feb 10 |  Luge
Georgian pulls out of luge event
14 Feb 10 |  Luge
Olympic luger dies after crashing
13 Feb 10 |  Luge
Day-by-day guide to the Winter Olympics
26 Feb 10 |  Vancouver 2010
Snow shifted to Olympic ski site
02 Feb 10 |  Freestyle skiing
Event guide: Luge
10 Jan 06 |  Luge


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