It looked for many people that they would not be able to see Sunday’s men’s downhill. The organisers had their first serious trouble with buses going to wrong locations and huge jams up in the mountains.
Security, as it has to be, is very tight, but some of the venues are having trouble coping with checking in large numbers of people at the same time. With 15 minutes before the start of racing, there were hordes of spectators and media becoming increasingly irate in one or two packed lines outside the bottom of the downhill area.
The organisers admitted on Monday that Sunday was ‘a challenging day for traffic’, something of an understatement since a supposedly simple five-minute shuttle bus in Sestriere was taking about 30 minutes to arrive at its destination. One US reporter shouted as he almost failed to catch a bus again that he had been at the head of the queue five times already.
The travails of journalists, of course, generally cause only merriment among the general populace and, even to event organisers we are sometimes just a necessary inconvenience. So it was a little surprising to receive a formal bowing and scraping from the organisers who said: ‘We apologise to the media for the problems getting to [the downhill].’
Outside the race area I dodged the flying elbows of a French reporter as her patience snapped and she yelled that she had work to do. She probably couldn’t imagine exactly how much work was looming as about an hour later her compatriot Antoine Denariaz pulled off a huge upset and skied to the gold medal in a time much faster than all the fancied runners.
Denariaz had been the fastest in the last training run, but many experts discount training times since skiers often ease off in order to manipulate their starting position for the race. The result was that the Frenchman went last of the 30 main starters on Sunday, an hour after Austrian Michael Walchhofer had posted a very fast time and was lying first.
The French in the crowd at the bottom gave the first hint that the day’s events were not over because they were watching the split times of Denariaz at the top of the run. Confusingly, the television pictures of a skier at the top started only after the racer had already been on the course for a minute or so, and caught up live at some point in the middle of the 1min 50 second descent.. A huge cheer went up as it was obvious how well Denariaz was doing at the top, that swelled all the way down.
Michelle Kwan, the US’s most decorated figure skater, had the good sense to avoid any more controversy and pull out of the Games from injury on Sunday.
Figure skating, which really ought to be about grace on the ice, seems always to be hounded by scandals. Allegations of biased judging at the last Olympics come to mind, not to mention the drama a few years ago of deliberate attempts at injury and sabotage in the rivalry between Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan.
Kwan, has won everything in the sport except Olympic gold, and is the darling of the US skating authorities. But she had already upset some fans by being selected without competing for qualification and while injured. Worse, for lovers of family saga, Kwan was picked over Emily Hughes, the sister of current Olympic champion Sarah Hughes.
Sarah, in a reminder of how young all these people are - she’s 20 - has gone to college and is not defending her title. Emily, 17, qualified for the US’s third berth but was edged out because the selectors gave Kwan a chance to heal and skate in Turin. Now Emily will be taking part.
It was obvious to anyone who saw Kwan practice on Saturday that she was out of sorts. Grimacing, she missed some jumps and did not run through her routine. At a press conference she more or less admitted she was on the verge of pulling out. “Dropping out is not something I want to do but I have to listen to my body.”
She also said that being outside on a cold night for two hours during Friday’s opening ceremony had not done her any favours. Her body, already suffering from travel, had stiffened up.
She should have wrapped up warmly like the British delegation. Their long woollen coats and hats were reminiscent of 1960s BEA air hostesses.
More from Adrian Michaels in Turin:
Games preview: Olympic loner aims to come in from cold