Canada's main squeeze

There were a handful of Canadian Olympic athletes on my flight from Vancouver to Beijing on Monday. If they seemed a bit tightly wound, well, now I know why. They were probably wearing “compression tights.” What are they, you ask. Well, duh, they are the latest advance in sports science, that’s what. The good folks at Canadian Sports Centre Pacific explain: “They provide engineered gradient compression for the lower body, maintaining healthy circulation and minimizing swelling and dehydration – the primary cause of jetlag – during forced periods of inactivity. In addition to making them feel better when they arrive at their destination, the tights reduce lactic acid build-up, increase muscle oxygenation and enhance circulation.”

Personally, I think they sound like something you’d buy on late night TV. “And if you order within the next 20 minutes, we’ll send you, absolutely free, a second set of compression tights and a performance-enhancing athletic supporter! Have your credit card ready.” But, hey, if it works . . .

It’s early days yet in Beijing. And not having the benefit of compression tights, I may be a bit jet-lagged. Still, a few quick impressions are in order. It’s already apparent there’s a huge degree of difference between the Beijing Games and the Athens Olympics of 2004, and we’re not just talking temperature. On that account, both cities can be brutally hot but Beijing’s air is so oppressively humid you wear it like an unwelcome layer of damp, grey flannel. The Greek air, by contrast, had a whiff of desperation to it. Four years ago, the Greeks were still rolling out sod and planting flowers around sporting venues and making last-minute construction tweaks right up to the opening ceremonies, and beyond. And, yet, the Greeks were offended that the world’s media had questioned their ability to pull off the event. “See, we told you we’d be ready. Just, ah, don’t touch the paint for a couple of more hours.”

Beijing in the days before the opening ceremonies is remarkably calm and orderly. There is much enthusiasm, but little of the chaotic exuberance of the Greeks. This may seem naïve, but gosh, there are a lot of people. A task that might logically require three people will have six, or 10. They seem a tad under employed at the moment. I made the mistake of setting down my morning coffee just long enough to adjust my backpack. In the micro-second that took, an eager cafeteria staffer had already disposed of it—and recycled the container—a new Olympic record.

My Olympic copilot Jonathon Gatehouse has already noted the discipline of Olympic staff here. It’s not unusual to see them marching to their assignments in close-order, single file. This may not be that unusual for the Chinese military and security staff (all 100,000 of them) but those in lockstep in Beijing are just as likely to be grounds keepers, garbage collectors or kitchen staff. Certainly that sort of discipline was not something you’d seen in Athens and, guaranteed, you won’t be seeing it in Vancouver in 2010.

Speaking of Vancouver, John Furlong, CEO of the Vancouver Organization Committee, is in town. He and 47 of his staff will rotate through Beijing over the course of these Games and the Paralympics (at a cost of $600,000) to see what lessons can be learned from the hyper-organized Chinese. He met with the International Olympic Committee Tuesday, where he gave them a report on the state of preparations. All Vancouver’s competition venues are already completed—take that you Greeks!—but for the curling and speed skating rinks. Screening has already started on the 43,718 Olympic volunteer applicants—no close-order drill required. He also said the route for Canada’s Olympic torch relay will be announced before the end of the year. Taking the torch on an international journey, as the Chinese did with disastrous results, has already been ruled out. Much to the relief of the IOC.

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