The Tromsø Olympiad
An Olympiad is a highlight for many chess players, and also for journalists. Every two years, you meet just about everyone you know in chess, but this time all together in one small place!
I attended the Olympiad from the first day to the last. It was great to be in a small town like Tromsø, filled with chess players, many of them wearing jerseys in the colors of their country's flag, walking from the hotel to the playing hall, or to a restaurant.
What I noticed right from the start is that everyone is always comparing an Olympiad with previous ones. I guess that's because there has never been an Olympiad where everything was organised perfectly, and so everyone wonders, first optimistic: Will this be the best Olympiad ever? Then, with less expectations: Will it at least be better than two years ago? And then more pessimistic: What problems will we encounter this time?
I personally think that the Tromsø Olympiad was slightly above average. The food was quite good, although it could have used a bit more variety. It was served in three different hotels, always in walking distance in case you'd be staying in a different one. Simple drinks were not included, only water.
The town itself is both beautiful and small. As a result, people who love to hike (or run, in my case) must have enjoyed it a lot, but people who like big cities, because they're into museums, or want to try out different clubs at night, were probably a bit bored during the second week. There were a few decent bars in town, though, and there were several parties. Especially the Caribbean party, held in the “24”, is one I'll remember.
The arctic sun in Tromsø was of course very special. It just wouldn't go dark! One of the nights the air was very foggy, and this gave the city a rather surreal impression around midnight.
But it cannot be denied that Tromsø was simply too small for what ended up as the biggest ever Olympiad. More players and delegates than ever travelled to Norway, which led to accommodation problems. When you have to lodge a few dozen arbiters 70km away from the playing hall, something went seriously wrong!
The playing hall was OK, but not great. It was an old fabric hall (it was used for storage, as part of the Mack Brewery) and therefore didn't exactly make a glamourous impression. A tiny bit bigger would have been nice too (in that respect, the Turin Olympiad's venue hasn't been beaten yet!) and the toilets were a serious problem. Half-way the organizers had received so many complaints, that they were forced to hire more cleaners.
But an Olympiad is an Olympiad: one big fiesta of chess and whatever the conditions, everyone loves to participate!
This Olympiad was somewhat dominated by the FIDE Presidential elections, partly because of the Kasparov posters, saying “the future of chess,” that could be seen everywhere on bus stops and buildings in Tromsø! After Kasparov lost the elections, these posters were a sad reminder during the final, rainy days.
From a media perspective, the Olympiad was a huge success. The reporting on the official website was very good, but actually I am referring to NRK. The Norwegian national tv channel had built up their own studio and they were broadcasting a live show for many hours every day, attracting hundreds of thousands of Norwegians.
I was both taken aback and impressed by their “guerilla style” interviews, where are charming blond reporter put a microphone under a top chess player's chin, a few minutes before the game would start!
The next Olympiad will be held in Baku, Azerbaijan. I suspect that one will be organized on an even higher level, as the Azeris are simply too proud, and love chess too much, to let it fail. Their budget will probably be higher too.
However, due to the tense political situation, three-time winner Armenia probably won't participate. And so, whatever happens, it cannot be the best Olympiad ever...