When the Vancouver Olympic committee opted for electric vehicles instead of the old exhaust-spewing ice-resurfacing machines, environmentalists everywhere had reason to cheer.
Until the eco-friendly machines — part of Canada’s attempt to throw a “green” Olympics — failed several times, delaying both the men’s and women’s speed skating heats.
The Canadian-built Olympia ice-resurfacing machine ground to a halt on Monday night, delaying the men’s 500-meter event, news outlets from The Vancouver Sun to The New York Times reported. After the first machine failed, a second and third one were brought out to no avail. With athletes reaching speeds of 40 mph on the ice, the uneven surface was deemed too dangerous to go forward. Officials decided to bring in new machines from Calgary, but athletes, spectators and bloggers were already abuzz.
After initially waiting out the delay on Monday, American skater Shani Davis eventually withdrew from the competition, a race he was using to prep for the 1,000-meter race. (Davis won the gold in the 1,000-meter event on Wednesday.) His decision may not have been related to the ice, but he had this to say about conditions: “It’s part of the game. It happens. Bad ice is bad ice,” he said.
An ice-resurfacing machine also broke down on Sunday, midway through the women’s 3,000-meter event. After the faulty machine flooded the ice, a rough patch developed near the finish line.
Officials apologized to the athletes and to spectators, assuring them that a new ice-resurfacing machine was on the way. But skaters were unhappy with the ice from the get-go, calling it “humbling” and “worker ice,” because of frost buildup, prompting American coaches to request additional turns with the machines to smooth out the surface.
“I realize they wanted to make a green Games … but Zambonis in the past have worked for years and years,” Canadian speed skater Kyle Parrott told The Toronto Star. “I don’t know why they didn’t stick with them.”
After a replacement machine was shipped from Calgary, the venue’s general manager, Magnus Enfeldt, said the Olympia machines had been working properly for more than a year before this week’s glitches. “For now, our main concern is the athletes,” he said. “Being consistent and fair and the safety of the athletes is our No. 1 priority.”
Editor's note: This story initially identified a different kind of ice resurfacing machine in the headline. The Olympia is the electric-powered ice resurfacing machine involved in this incident. As the commenters pointed out below, a Zamboni is a different brand of machine.