Olympics Grow More Environmentally Aware

By , staff

THE snow is still white, but the Olympics are turning "green." Organizers of the winter Games here have caught some flak for a few snafus and decisions regarding the environment, but they also can point to instances of admirable sensitivity.

Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee, congratulated the Albertville organizers for "altering the line of the men's downhill [ski course] in order to spare a single flower, an aquilegia, which has become extremely rare." Another example: A new roadway in the Savoie region includes an underpass for rare toads.

Mr. Samaranch has asked that the planners of the 1994 Olympic Congress in Paris give "the important issue of the environment a place on the agenda."

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In 1994, the winter Olympics move to Lillehammer, Norway, which is determined to host a "green" Olympics.

To do this requires working in harmony with environmental groups, such as the local youth organization that initially made an issue of plans to build a mammoth speed-skating hall, called "The Viking Ship," right next to a bird sanctuary. The World Wildlife Fund and Olympic boss Samaranch were drawn into the discussion, which culminated in a decision to build the facility farther away.

Through this experience, a good working relationship with the environmental community has been forged, says Rolf Ovrum, a spokesman for the Lillehammer Games, who acknowledges that a "green Olympics" was a slogan at first.

But that slogan is now closer to being put into practice. The organizing committee even provides a financial incentive for Mr. Ovrum to take the train rather than drive during his frequent Olympic business trips to Oslo.

The bobsled and luge run was purposely built to nestle into a wooded valley where it can't be seen from the road. Olympic suppliers have been instructed on how to wrap their goods, and the initial projection of 120 tons of garbage daily has been revised downward to 57 tons. Engineers and environmentalists have marked trees that deserve high priority in the construction of the two ski jumps, and there is a penalty of between $1,000 and $5,000 for damaging these trees.

As Ovrum of the organizing committee explains: "Because of our short summers and long winters, it takes a long time to reproduce a forest, perhaps 60 to 80 years."

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