Crossover Sports Do Not Allow for Crossover Productions at Whistler Olympic Park

The Olympic biathlon competition involves cross-country skiing – the competitors ski loops around a cross-country course, stopping to shoot targets with rifles at various points – but putting the biathlon on television is completely separate process from televising the nearby cross-country events. Bjorn Bjorklund, venue tech manager for Olympic Broadcast Services (OBS), oversees both the biathlon and cross-country events contested at Whistler Olympic Park, and it is up to him to keep both production arms running separately and smoothly.

Size Definitely Matters
“It’s quite a big venue we’re dealing with because we have both biathlon and cross country here,” Bjorklund explains. “You know you have a big venue when you have to take a shuttle bus to the field of play.”

Indeed, the production compound is situated between the two courses, and a shuttle bus – or a snowmobile – is often used to move from one to the other. Three or four snowmobiles, equipped with unmanned RF cameras, are used for coverage of the cross country races, while one snowmobile is used to cover the biathlon course.

“There is a camera with a robotic cineflex head on the snowmobiles, and the operator sits down in the compound to operate the camera,” Bjorklund explains. “We have just a driver on the snowmobile and all of the controls are RF.”

The biathlon competition utilizes 42 cameras, including a look from a helicopter and blimp and four super slo mo cameras, but there are more camera positions along the course than physical cameras.

“We have more camera positions than cameras because we’re always moving cameras back and forth,” Bjorklund says. “We have the cable cam overhead and also a rail cam on the ground in the stadium for the finish, and also another rail cam along the curve leading up to the stadium. That is a speed camera that brings the athletes into the stadium.”

On TargetCam
The biathlon competitions are produced by a crew from Norwegian broadcaster NRK. In addition to being the world’s experts in biathlon production, NRK has developed a proprietary system called TargetCam, which ensures easy access to each of the targets as the athletes take their shots.

“The TargetCam is a rail camera designed specifically to cover the targets,” Bjorklund explains. “It’s pre-programmed for a tight shot on each one of the targets, so the operator can push a button for any one of the targets and the camera will go directly there. It’s a production decision as to which target we go to and when, but the operator can move pretty quickly between the targets.”

Playing to their Strengths
While the Norwegians are the experts in biathlon, the Finish are the best in the world at cross country production, so a crew from Finland’s YLE handles the production of the cross-country events.

“Cross country has a totally different setup,” Bjorklund says. “We have 57 cameras on the cross country course, and that includes photo finish cameras, a blimp, and a helicopter. Except for the snowmobiles, they’re all manned.”

All of the cameras on both courses are wired by triax, which took nearly three weeks to lay down completely. An additional 12,000 meters of triax had to be run at the last minute, when some equipment “didn’t want to work,” as Bjorklund puts it, a few days before the Games were set to begin.

Enhanced Effects
Both courses have microphones laid throughout the length of the course, but according to Bjorklund, there aren’t as many microphones in the snow as one might think.

“The microphones along the course are mostly atmosphere mikes,” Bjorklund says. “We also have a whole room inside the control area for audio because a lot of the sounds are sampled for both biathlon and cross country. You can’t cover all the sounds that you want live, so you need to fill in the audio, and we also want to get rid of the PA sounds. We add in the effects in the proper places for cross country and biathlon, and the samples really help enhance the effect of the audio in 5.1.”

The Rain in Canada Stays in the Mountains
The big headache at Whistler Olympic Park thus far, as with most of the venues in these Vancouver Olympic Games, has been the weather.

“The first week that we were here setting up, it was raining every day,” Bjorklund says. “There’s been a lot of rain and a lot of wet snow, so it’s been very tough for the equipment. We’re getting a lot of water into the equipment and connectors.”

The relative heat wave this past week was a welcome change, if only because it meant clear skies and no rain, but the direct sunlight brought some new complications.

“We have been trying to keep the cameras warm,” Bjorklund explains, “but yesterday we said we need air conditioners because the cameras are getting too warm. It’s been cold and wet and warm since we’ve been here, so it’s been very tough on the equipment. But even so, the productions have gone very well.”