Winter Olympics Open Friday in Vancouver

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I'm Bob Doughty. And I'm Faith Lapidus with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.

Today we tell about the Winter Olympic Games that open February 12th in Vancouver, Canada.

About 5,000 men and women from more than 80 countries will compete for 17 days at the Vancouver Olympics. They will compete in more than eighty separate medal events in fifteen sports. The games are about sportsmanship, hard work, and national pride. The athletes share a common goal -- to do their best and win a gold medal.

This will be the 21st Winter Olympic Games. The last Winter Games were held in 2006 in Turin, Italy. The next Winter Olympics will be in Sochi, Russia, in four years. But this month, millions of people around the world will turn their attention to the games taking place in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The city is on the western coast of Canada. It is known for its many bike and hiking paths, forests, lakes and beautiful mountain views. Vancouver is also a busy city with interesting cultural events, shops, restaurants and galleries. Many people spend their vacations visiting the city. For years, Vancouver has been rated one of the most livable places in the world. And, it has been rated one of the most environmentally friendly cities in the world.

The Olympics events will be held at several places in and around Vancouver. Event organizers have worked hard to ensure that the games will not pollute the environment. For example, people are urged to ride bicycles to the Olympic events. There are no places to park cars near the events. But all areas will have spaces to lock up bicycles.

In addition, many Olympic buildings were made from reused materials. Organizers made efforts to avoid cutting down old-growth trees. They also made careful decisions about how each building will be used after the Olympic Games. The event Web site describes every Olympic building and competition area and the environmental decisions that were made about its design.

Event organizers have had seven years and several billion dollars to plan for these Winter Games. But one thing outside of their control has been the weather. Warmer than average temperatures and lack of snow have been major concerns in the weeks leading up to the games.

The lack of snow will not be a problem for events being held at the ski area in the city of Whistler. However, the area called Cypress Mountain has been a problem.

Organizers have had to make huge efforts to guarantee the area is ready for six skiing and snowboarding events. For months, machines there have been producing and storing snow. Huge truckloads of snow have also been brought down from higher areas of the mountain.

The snow has been placed onto large forms made out of straw. These straw foundations have helped reduce the amount of snow needed. Organizers in Vancouver say the athletes will notice very little difference between a natural ski slope and the one that has been built for the games.

Speaking of warm weather, some of the countries sending athletes to the Winter Games might surprise you. A few of these athletes live in countries that rarely if ever see snow. For example, the popular bobsleigh team from the island of Jamaica did not qualify for the Olympics four years ago. But a team will be back to compete this year.

Philip Boit of Kenya began his athletic career as a runner. He decided to try a new sport in the nineteen nineties. The Nike athletic shoe company gave financial support to turn Kenyan runners into skiers. In nineteen ninety-eight, he became the first athlete from Kenya to compete in the Winter Games. He will return this year to compete in his fourth and final Olympics.

China will be sending its largest Winter Olympics team ever to the games. It will include 91 athletes, compared to 76 athletes four years ago. An official from the Chinese Olympic team says the country is much weaker in winter sports. But it still expects to match its results from the last Winter Games. He says China is working to narrow the difference between its strength during the Olympic Summer and Winter Games.

Winter Olympic sports include different forms of skiing, such as cross-country, Alpine, Nordic combined, free-style, and ski jumping. Snowboarding became an Olympic sport in nineteen ninety-eight. The athlete's feet are attached to a board that moves quickly on the snow. The sport combines the skills of surfing, skateboarding and skiing.

There are also three different sledding sports. These are bobsleigh, skeleton and luge. A bobsleigh is like a little car with a rounded nose made of fiberglass. But instead of wheels, it sits on steel runners that race along the ice. Runners push the bobsleigh for a distance of about 50 meters.

Then they jump onto the bobsleigh and continue racing down the track. Men compete in teams of two and four, while women only compete in teams of two.

A skeleton is a flat kind of sled. An athlete lies on top of it with his or her face down. Luge comes from the French word for sled. In luge racing, the athlete lies on top of the sled facing upwards.

Improvements in technology have greatly changed the equipment for these and other Winter Olympic sports. With specially cooled tracks and racing equipment, it is not unusual for luge athletes to reach speeds of 140 kilometers an hour or more.

Some of the winter sports played at the Olympics are internationally known, such as ice hockey. Others, like curling, are less widely known. Curling is a team sport played on ice. Two teams take turns pushing stones weighing almost 20 kilograms towards a circular target drawn on the ice.

The biathlon is another Olympic sport that is not as well known. This event combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. It began as a survival method. Northern Europeans skied to hunt for food, then later to defend their countries.

The biathlon requires great skill to combine the physical demands of skiing and the calm, focused attention needed for shooting at a target.

One of the most popular events at the winter Olympics is figure skating. This sport combines the athleticism of skating with the gracefulness and creativity of dance. There are four categories of figure skating: men's singles, women's singles, pairs, and ice dancing.

In women's skating, several of the Olympic favorites are the South Korean skater Kim Yu-Na, and Mao Asada and Miki Ando of Japan. Two athletes representing the United States are Rachel Flatt and Mirai Nagasu . In men's skating, Russia has won the gold medal in the last four Olympics. This year's favorites include Russian Evgeni Plushenko, Brian Joubert of France and Evan Lysacek of the United States.

Ice dancing is another popular event. It is judged on a couple's skill performing steps and turns to music. Unlike the other figure skating events, there are no overhead lifts and big jumps.

Charlie White and Meryl Davis are competing for the United States at the Olympics for the first time. They became very popular on the Internet for their ice dance performance set to traditional Indian music.

Speed skating is also a popular Olympic event. Americans will be watching short track speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno. He won five Olympic medals for the United States at the past two Winter Games.

The competition nearest to the hearts of many Canadians is ice hockey. For generations of Canadians, ice hockey has been an important part of their culture. Some say that for Canadians hockey is closer to a religion than a sport.

Twelve of the best national teams in the world will compete over twelve days. The first men's hockey game will be between the United States and Switzerland on February 16th. The National Hockey League in the United States is again permitting its players to represent their native countries in the Olympics. This has only been permitted for three other Olympic games.

For many hockey fans, the most important game of the Olympics will be decided on the final day, February 28th. This is when the final game of the men's hockey competition takes place. Experts say the men's hockey event will be one of the most competitive ever. One American hockey official said he thinks it will be the greatest hockey competition in the history of the world.

This program was written and produced by Dana Demange. I'm Faith Lapidus. And I'm Bob Doughty. For a link to the Vancouver Olympics Web site, go to voaspecialenglish.com. You can also comment on our programs. Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.

Voice of America Special English

Source: Winter Olympics Open Friday in Vancouver
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