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Olympics boss feeling the heat

In his role as chief executive of the Vancouver Organising Committee, Irishman John Furlong is the man ultimately held responsible for how the Winter Olympics -- which start today with at opening ceremony at 2.0am Irish time -- are run and how they are perceived.

There are some things that Furlong, a Tipperary native who went to school in St Vincent's in Glasnevin, and the committee cannot control, and one of them is the weather.

Warm weather has made things extremely comfortable in Vancouver, where people are gathering amid relatively balmy weather. And it has not affected the sites two hours to the north near Whistler, perfectly covered in snow.

But between those two, at the Cypress Mountain site for freestyle skiing and snowboarding, helicopters and trucks are moving snow, and crews are working non-stop to get everything in place before the Games begin.

The committee knew that Cypress Mountain's proximity to Vancouver and sea level -- the area is just 30 minutes from downtown, with views of the city -- meant there was a chance that conditions would not be quite right for the Olympics. Last February's snowboarding World Cup event there was bedevilled by slushy snow. But Furlong said the committee analysed 25 years of weather at Cypress. He said the "weather people" had told him that "we could have a problem with a one-in-100 winter".

"So we got a one-in-100 winter," Furlong said.

First of the Irish to begin Olympic competition is Scottish-born cross-country skier PJ Barron, who will compete on Monday at 10.30pm. Keeping up with the Irish will be difficult as there is an eight-hour time difference.