Security makes being a spectator an uphill climb.

Posted: Wednesday, February 13, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY -- While one of the signature events at these Olympics is the downhill, the challenge is often uphill for those who watch.

Spectators and media alike have similar logistical problems at these Winter Games. We ride shuttle buses to venues and, for security reasons, are dropped off quite a distance from the competition area. Getting to the dropoff place can take about an hour or two, depending on traffic. Tuesday there were competitions at every venue and morning traffic jams were horrendous.

Getting to where one can view competition can take much longer. At some mountain venues, the security areas don't have screening machines. So, every bag has to be hand-checked. Every piece of electronic equipment turned on.

Math quiz.

If a security guard can examine a day pack in 90 seconds, how many can he do in an hour? Say, there are 10 security tents. If there are 14,000 spectators, how many can be cleared in a hour?

With the media, it gets worse. All have electronic equipment. Throw in cameras seemingly on steroids, huge containers with large lenses, video accessories and photo belts and you'd better bring a book. It can take more than an hour to get through security. It may take another 30 minutes to get to a skiing event.

Exhibit A was the women's moguls competition, supposedly sold out. There were gaps in the stands during qualifying rounds. Many spectators were delayed at least an hour and a half in security. They missed half the show. Ski events begin on or near the top of a mountain. And they don't finish within spitting distance of the parking lot.

At the Deer Valley Resort, where freestyle skiiing is held, spectators and media alike have to walk a half mile in snow up about a 60-degree grade. Little did spectators know their pricey Olympic ticket carried with it a free stress test.

Along the route, volunteers watch huffers and puffers, telling them to slow down, that if you rest, you're not a wuss. The challenge ahead was evident by shouts of encouragement from one volunteer, "This is not a race and I don't intend to lose anyone on my watch.''

Once a spectator reaches the top of what is a beginner ski hill, there's good news and bad news. Turn around and the mountain vista is gorgeous. Look up and there's a grandstand on a hill. To get to it, you have to hike another half-mile up a steeper grade.

Reach the grandstand and there are steps, hundreds of them, ready to add to the burn.

Thus, it can take an hour and a half to two hours or more for the average fan to get from the parking lot to a view of the competition. At the popular downhill events, spectators rode six miles up the mountain on a shuttle bus and it often took an hour.

Get the idea? People can spend more time getting to the event than actually watching it.

The gusting snow that canceled ski jump qualification really can hurt when it pelts you in the face.

But for me, it's a breakthrough. I can finally truthfully tell my son I've walked a couple of miles through snow and ice.

(David McCollum, sports columnist for the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway, Ark., is part of the Morris News Service team covering the Winter Olympics).

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