VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Olympic chiefs came under fire Tuesday amid claims that they had chosen the failing ice resurfacers that sparked the “Frozen Water-gate” speedskating farce here because the machines were a cheap option.
Monday night’s men’s 500-meter speedskating event was delayed more than an hour — infuriating skaters, coaches, and fans — because none of the three machines at the Richmond Olympic Oval could satisfactorily re-prepare the ice after the first batch of races.
Such machines are often generally referred to as Zambonis — but the Vancouver Olympic Committee did not use the Zamboni company, based in Paramount, Calif. Instead VANOC designated Canada’s Resurfice one of its “Friends of the Games,” a type of sponsorship, using the company’s Olympia model.
After a barrage of criticism, Olympic bosses were forced to truck in a Zamboni-brand machine from the Calgary Olympic Oval.
These Games had an overall budget of around $1 billion. Critics will point out that three new Zambonis could have been purchased for $450,000 total. There had been talk here that environmentalism won the bid for Olympia, but Zamboni representatives disputed that.
“The Zamboni Company’s bid to VANOC was for our Zamboni Model 552 battery-powered electric machine, which is the same machine that was the exclusive ice resurfacer used in Torino and Lillehammer,” Zamboni spokeswoman Paula Coony said in an email to Yahoo! Sports. “The choice of the competitor’s product was not connected to their ability to provide a ‘green’ machine, but was instead because the competition was ‘substantially less expensive,’ as we were told by VANOC.”
VANOC said in a statement: “Olympia provides machines for all of our ice sports and has been meeting our needs very effectively. The Richmond Olympic Oval is the only instance where we have taken the decision to bring in a Zamboni so that the ice maker can use equipment he is familiar with.”
Resurfice could not be reached for comment.
Monday’s delay was all the more embarrassing because it coincided with International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge’s visit to the Richmond venue.
“It has been a couple of tough days,” said Mark Messer, the oval’s chief ice maker. “We have been working through it. We apologize for the delays. Different machines, different problems. It is electronics. One was the drive, one was the conveyor system.”
Messer cited Dutch skater Sven Kramer’s Olympic record in the 5,000 meters as an indication that the ice was generally decent.
But several skaters have voiced their displeasure with it, and American Shani Davis revealed that Monday’s delay was a major reason he withdrew from the 500 after his opening run.
The Dutch team has been the most vocal.
“When skaters are not prepared for a race, you don’t send them out,” said Netherlands sporting director Arie Koops. “It should be the same with the resurfacing machine. If one machine was broken, they should have prepared the third. It was standing there in the garage.
“I have never seen anything like this.”