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(photo credit: AP)
VANCOUVER – Even the buses here apologize.
That’s righ t: saying sorry is so ingrained in the Canadian character that even inanimate objects need to beg pardon for letting down would-be riders.
While waiting for a bus the other night, no less than three zoomed by with their interior dim and their electronic message board set to “Sorry, no passengers.”
It’s a good thing that locals are practiced in mea culpas, since this might as well be called the Winter Games of apologies.
The Olympics began, hours before the Opening Ceremonies, with the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili while on a training run.
A tragedy in any circumstance, his untimely death was met with recriminations the Vancouver Olympic officials turned a blind eye to the dangers and intensified the risk for foreign athletes by limiting their practice runs. The track has since been slightly modified.
While that was the nadir of these Olympics, lesser problems have plagued the games ever since.
Dubbed the “glitch games,” the somber opening was followed by mass confusion over mass transit as thousands of spectators had to wait hours to board buses to get back from Cypress Mountain while they were drenched by rain. (For some reason, these buses offered no atonement.)
That probably was essentially solved when the organizers canceled thousands of standing room tickets – some of the most affordable sold – after the rain and melted snow made conditions unsafe for the structure that had been set up to host the SRO crowds atop the mountain.
Adequate precautions were lacking across town, however, when a fence collapsed during a venue concert, injuring dozens and sending nine people to the hospital.
In another case, the athletes themselves – never mind the spectators –had to wait for over an hour before speed skating races when two different ice clearing machines broke down. In the end, a Zamboni was imported from Calgary for the job.
But the Games’ greatest technical error, no doubt, was one of the four pillars of the Olympic torch got stuck in the floor of the arena during the Opening Ceremonies.
After an awkward pause, the three operating pillars were lit by three of the athletes summoned for the honor, while the fourth merely held her torch aloft, In that case, at least, nothing was hurt other than national pride.
As it happens, even Canadian athletes have joined the apologizing chorus, after failing to deliver the number of medals anticipated by local authorities.
Again and again they have said sorry to their fellow countrymen for letting them down.
But perhaps they do protest too much.
A recent poll found that despite the many wipeouts and close misses, 84 percent disagreed with the notion that “if Canada fails to win the most medals of any nation or lead in the medal count, the Games will be a disappointment.”
Maybe that’s because the warm weather partly responsible for the Cypress mess gave Vancouverites a rare week of glorious sun under which to fill the streets and enjoy scads of free entertainment.
Maybe that’s because the overwhelming crowds, responsible for much of
the trouble, are a sign of the deep enthusiasm and excitement of
Canadians playing host to a world-wide drama.
And maybe that’s because despite all the setbacks thousands of athletes
participating in dozens of contests have given their all, providing
record performances and heady inspiration.
Or maybe they’re just too polite here to say anything other than, “That’s okay.”