Road To The Olympic Games

Olympic flame visitors win fight for view

Olympic spectators in Vancouver can finally get an unobstructed look at the Olympic flame, after organizers changed the fences around the site and opened a rooftop viewing area to the public.
Visitors take pictures of the Olympic cauldron from behind a fence in the downtown Vancouver plaza. The barricade was modified Wednesday after complaints. ((Gary Hershorn/Reuters))

Olympic spectators in Vancouver can finally get an unobstructed look at the Olympic flame, after organizers changed the fences around the site and opened a rooftop viewing area to the public.

The area around the Olympic cauldron was a beehive of activity early Wednesday as construction workers made modifications to the roughly three-metre high chain-link and concrete barricade put up to keep the crowds away.

"The Olympic cauldron is a powerful symbol and the desire to get as close to it as possible has been remarkable — more than we expected," VANOC CEO John Furlong said in a statement Wednesday morning.

The new layout provides access to an elevated viewing platform just to the west of the cauldron that allows unobstructed views of the flame, located at the International Media Centre in downtown Vancouver.

The viewing deck, which can accommodate 150 at a time, will be open from 9 a.m. PT to 5 p.m. daily and is accessible by stairs or elevator, officials said.

The workers also moved the fence about 25 metres closer to the cauldron and cut a 25-centimetre gap in the fence at eye level to allow people to take pictures of the flame, which overlooks the waters of Burrard Inlet and the North Shore Mountains.

The changes follow widespread complaints about the unsightly barricade and the distance the public was being kept from the flame, which will burn until the closing of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games on Feb. 28.

Lit by Gretzky

The flame has been a 24-hour attraction in downtown Vancouver since last Friday, when Wayne Gretzky lit the outdoor cauldron. But when the Great One was gone, so too was public access to the waterfront plaza where the flame now burns.

People who showed up the next day were confronted by the sight of the flame locked up behind a chain-link fence. Outrage wasn't limited to the public. Members of the International Olympic Committee said privately they were stunned by the sight of the fenced-in flame.

Pictures of the Olympic flame can now be taken through a gap cut in the surrounding chain-link fence. ((Steve Lus/CBC))

Even as modifications proceeded early Wednesday, people were still angry the fence was put up in the first place.

"I would love it if they took down the fence," said Scott Crisp, who arrived in Vancouver on Tuesday from his home in Victoria. "It seems a little obscure [why] there would be a fence in front of the flame."

Organizers said the cauldron is far closer to the public than Olympic flames of past Games, where they've usually been located in or atop stadiums.

"This cauldron is unique because it is so close, so we're adapting to that," Renée Smith-Valade, vice-president of communications for the Olympic organizing committee known as VANOC, said Tuesday before the changes were made.

Fence seen as symbol

But placing the flame behind a fence became a symbol in itself. Vancouver organizers admit they underestimated the number of people hoping to share in the flame's warmth.

Thousands have passed by each day, herded like cattle by an Olympic volunteer perched on a lifeguard's chair and armed with a bullhorn.

Vancouver organizers recognized the need for an external cauldron years ago when it became clear that their plans for indoor opening ceremonies — B.C. Place stadium is covered by a billowy fabric roof — would require an outdoor home for the flame.

They settled on what they thought was an excellent location: a downtown plaza that could accommodate the gas-fed steel and glass structure, which stands 10 metres high.

"The intention wasn't to put it behind a fence," John Furlong, VANOC's chief executive officer, said recently. "It was to put it in a great place. It's a great shot of the city there."

With files from The Canadian Press