Out of Bounds

The 2010 Winter Olympics are well underway in Vancouver and thus far they appear to be a colossal disappointment. Look at what's happened already:

-In the weeks preceding the games, Vancouver was devoid of snow, forcing the organizers to import tons upon tons of powder to the soggy city.

-In a horrific tragedy, Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili was killed after crashing over the side bank of what may be the fastest, most dangerous luge track on the planet. Olympic officials were quick to dismiss his death as human error, but made several modifications to the $100 million course in the days following Kumaritashvili's death.

-The opening ceremonies honored the fallen luger with a moment of silence, and a standing ovation for the Georgian representatives as they entered. This was followed by a three-minute mechanical delay during the torch lighting ceremony.

-The men's 10-kilometer sprint biathlon was adversely affected by blizzard conditions on Sunday, once the games were underway. The event - a bizarre marriage of cross-country skiing and rifle shooting - started innocuously enough, but the top competitors were slated for a later start time. By the time they began, a deluge of wet snow was pouring down, making it all but impossible to aim while target shooting and, in all likelihood, costing several top contenders spots on the podium.

-The snow that wreaked havoc at the end of the biathlon might be the last snow in Vancouver for the remainder of the Olympics. Sunny skies and 50-degree temperatures are forecast for the next week. Maybe the District of Columbia would have made a better host city.

Organizers, Vancouverites and casual viewers needn't panic, however. Despite the numerous setbacks and a dismal weather forecast, there remain plenty of opportunities to salvage these embattled Olympics, and plenty of reasons for the layperson to continue to tune in.

Men's ice hockey, arguably the marquee event, has only just gotten underway, and showcases NHL superstars past and present on a global scale. Best of all, it doesn't require snow or subzero temperatures.

For hockey-crazed Canada, a gold medal on home ice will justify the entire Olympics. For the Americans, a gold medal will equal sweet revenge for Canada's gold against the United States at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. For the Swedes, defending their 2006 gold medal performance at Turin will officially establish the country as an international hockey powerhouse.

And men's hockey is just the beginning of the fun at the 2010 Olympics. Ever heard of curling? The thrillingly dorky sport rose to prominence in 2006 when the United States team went on a magical run to a bronze medal.

The sport is easy to follow - it bears similarities to an icy form of shuffleboard - and watching team members furiously sweep at the ice in front of the curling stone on every shot is either hilarious or exhilarating, depending on the viewer.

If curling doesn't pique your interest (and really, why wouldn't it?), there are ample alternatives. Starting today, there are still six medal events remaining in the biathlon alone. Although the men's 10-km sprint may have been a failure, the men's 4x7.5-km relay on Sunday, Feb. 26 promises to be an epic display of teamwork and marksmanship.

Perhaps the most adrenaline-filled event is the skeleton, which is just like the luge - except headfirst. On a track where speeds have routinely exceeded 90 mph, maniacs from countries around the world will zoom around winding turns with their chins inches above the icy surface.

In the wake of the recent tragedy, the track supposedly has been altered to ensure the safety of the participants. There's only so much you can do to ensure safety while flying headfirst downhill at 90 mph, however. Kumaritashvili's deadly crash is sure to be in the back of every slider's mind as they enter the track's challenging final turn.

The Olympics are a celebration of global unity, friendly competition and athletic excellence. As the balmy host city frantically tries to cope with adverse conditions, don't lament the games. Rather, appreciate the spirit of the international festival that brought together thousands of athletes from around the globe in the first place.

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