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Friday, February 5, 2010

2010 Winter Olympics: 5 Things You Didn't Know

By Ross Bonander Entertainment Correspondent

2010 Winter Olympics 

2010 Winter Olympics: 5 Things You Didn't Know

Photo Credit: N A I T/

Last Olympics, Michael Phelps treated the world to a performance of unprecedented dominance. He followed it up with a marketing campaign to rival Michael Jordan. Although some sponsors turned their backs on him following the bong scandal, many others stuck with him.

Ads featuring Phelps have never been overburdened with dialogue; in fact, in the latest Subway commercials Phelps is entirely mute, left to making hand gestures under water. If Phelps does indeed boost the sales of whatever he pitches -- Speedo, VISA, Subway, Rosetta Stone to name a few -- he does so despite himself, since it's hard to remember an Olympic champion with less natural-born charisma.

For this reason, we can't wait for the 2010 Winter Games to begin, so Madison Avenue can crown a new Olympic hero if only until 2012, when Phelps makes his inevitable return -- to the pool, the podium and the pitch wagon.

With this in mind, we present five things you didn't know about the 2010 Winter Olympics.

1- Every medal will be distinct at the 2010 Winter Olympics

The first thing you didn't know about the 2010 Winter Olympics is that this year's medal design is especially awesome.

These Olympics have been met with plenty of controversy, in part because they will take place in Vancouver on the traditional territory of four native peoples: the Squamish, Musqueam, Lil'wat, and Tsleil-Waututh. Protesters have harassed the games since their announcement, although missing from the protests have been people from the four affected groups. Instead, they entered an agreement to participate in the planning and preparation of the games all the way back in 2004, and their unique influence will be impossible to miss, above all in their most brilliant and unique contribution: the medals.

Designed by First Nation member Corinne Hunt to be symbolic of the communal nature of the Olympics, each medal features a design fully unique to it. Like a patchwork quilt, you would need to see all the medals put together in order to see Hunt's full artwork.

2- 100,000 free condoms will be available at the 2010 Winter Olympics

You just can't put thousands of young, attractive and physically fit people together in a closed village with fame and glory percolating around them like bubbles in a hot tub and expect them to abstain from something as phenomenal-sounding as Olympic sex.

For this reason, condoms are rarely in short supply at the Olympics, and these games will be no different compliments of the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control. Its 100,000 condom donation to the 6,850 Olympic and Paralympic athletes and staff is nothing if not especially optimistic, since it amounts to about 14 condoms per person.


3- The Cayman Islands will be represented at the 2010 Winter Olympics

Another thing you didn't know about the 2010 Winter Olympics is that another Jamaican bobsled team may be on the way.

The Caribbean nation of the Cayman Islands, not exactly a winter wonderland, will for the first time be sending a representative to the Winter Olympics. Dow Travers -- a giant slalom skier (part of alpine skiing) -- learned to ski in his teens while abroad on a student exchange program. Predictably, he's drawn plenty of comparisons to the famed Jamaican bobsled team, but for his sake let's hope the comparisons end there. In Olympic competition, the Jamaicans have never even cracked the top 10.

The Cayman Islands aren't the only ones sending their first athlete to these Winter Games. Other first-time countries include Ghana, Pakistan and Montenegro -- whose athletes, like Travers, will take part in an alpine skiing event.

4- Ski cross will make its debut at the 2010 Winter Olympics

2010 will mark the emergence of ski cross, one of three Olympic freestyle skiing events (with aerials and moguls). According to the official web site, ski cross "is based on a simple concept: first across the finish line wins." The wild popularity at Turin 2006 of snowboard cross paved the way for ski cross. It's the only new event at these Winter Games.

In selecting ski cross, the IOC Executive Board (EB), the body that decides which events are in and which are out, passed on a handful of others including biathlon mixed relay, bobsleigh and skeleton team competition, and luge team competition because they would only feature athletes already in the games. The EB also passed on women's ski jumping and curling mixed doubles because they felt they aren't fully developed and don't have the necessary technical standards.

The EB has to draw the line somewhere. One sport that has been trying to get into the games since 1996 without success is ski orienteering, in which competitors, armed with maps, ski their way out of hostile environments like forests. If this sounds to you more worthy of a Boy Scout badge than an Olympic medal, relax, you're among friends.

5- NBC bought the TV rights for the 2010 Winter Olympics for $2.2 billion

The last thing you didn't know about the 2010 Winter Olympics is how much NBC plunked down for them.

NBC effortlessly outbid its competitors for the U.S. television broadcast rights to these Winter Games and to the London Summer Games in 2012 by giving the IOC exactly what it wanted; paying a record-breaking sum of $2.2 billion (over $800 million for Vancouver, the rest for London). The network made this offer in 2003, well before either of the venues had been chosen and long before the current economic slump. According to NBC executives, this poor foresight will cost the peacock around $200 million.

FOX plans to make things even worse on NBC by running new episodes of American Idol during Olympic airing times, a show that crushed the games from Turin in 2006 and will likely crush them again.