The 2058 Coober Pedy Winter Olympics
By L. J. Holmes
“Nah mate, it wasn’t fun. There was absolutely nothing fun at all about those eleven years. What? Oh fine, since you’re all so interested I’ll tell you. Someone buy me a drink and I’ll tell you about the 2058 Coober Pedy Winter Olympics.
It started with the weather engine. A small machine that could float on lighter-than-air gasses. I teamed up with an expert in quantum computers to get a small enough computer that was powerful enough to operate the aerosol extractor. It was a mostly self-contained unit. We had to supply water but once we did… what? You’re not interested in the tech behind the artificial clouds? Well okay, but I’ll have to give you some details as I go on.
So if I’m skipping the initial development, then it started with my domes in the desert. We called them Controlled Environment Domes, but it seems weather dome is the name that stuck.
Once we had clouds up and going, doing stuff with them was simple. At first they were confined to the domes. The earliest clouds needed a tube to continually pump water to them, which we then used to make rain, hail or snow. Though it wasn’t long until clouds in the domes were able to condense water in the air. Once we had the water system recreated we rarely needed to top them.
There was only a little interest in the weather domes at first. It did have some uses but, but was limited. Once my team made our first traveling cloud though things changed. Those clouds could be released into an area with a high rain level, fill up, and then fly somewhere else and unleash their water. These tame clouds had the ability to change the world.
So I was excited to hear from a federal government flunky that I was being offered millions of dollars to mass produce clouds. I imagined a campaign to save drought ravaged areas and bring clean drinking water to the world.
But no, all that money was being spent on pride. Australia is a nation of innovators, they said. Australia is a nation of athletes, they said. Therefore, it was important for Australia to become the first Southern Hemisphere country to host the Winter Olympics; before one of New Zealand’s bids for the games won.
You remember President Chan right? What am I saying, how could anyone forget her? The first President who insisted we needed big things to re-affirm our post-republic national identity. She’d already made sure there was a strong Australian presence on the International Lunar Colony, had convinced the UN to build the Space Elevator in Darwin, and just weeks before we first met she talked Western Australia into giving up their succession attempt. Yes, in her quest for Aussie glory she wasted heaps of money on insane projects like these games, but I still got a lot of respect for her.
And okay, I’ll be fair. There were real, practical reasons why Chan and so many politicians were keen on the idea of a Winter Olympics. They talked about decentralization a lot. Everything was located in the capital cities, and as such rural towns and regional cities were dying. Even today it’s still a problem.
Decentralization was Chan’s fancy new policy, and a Winter Olympics in the middle of nowhere was seen as a good advertisement and infrastructure spree. Besides, the Federal and State governments had just spent ten years funding the hell out of research and education. They wanted to show that it had paid off.
Hey, I said real, practical reasons. Not good real, practical reasons.
So, why did I join? Well, I’d benefited from the long government interest in improving science and education. I agreed with the flunky; it would be great to show the world what we could do now. Plus, it would be a terrific way to prove how effective my clouds were.
So I signed on, was given the title Chief Weather Controller, and met with the Australian Olympic Committee. It was all going great.
Then the AOC picked Coober Pedy as the candidate city.
Coober fucking Pedy.
The Opal Capital of the World. A tiny town in the Outback that gets so hot people live in holes in the ground! When I went there with Mr. Smith from the AOC to check things out I discovered that the showers in the hotel were coin operated. Water was such a precious commodity it had to be shipped in. That’s how dry it is there! The average temperature in February: 35.3 Celsius. That’s 95.5 degrees Fahrenheit for all the Americans in here.
So yeah,fuck that.
Except, the government really wanted to show off all that Australian ingenuity they had been funding over the past decade. If they were going to make a show over controlling the weather, they were going to do so in the most spectacular way possible.
So that’s how Coober Pedy became a candidate for the 2058 Winter Olympics. An announcement that the rest of the world greeted with laughter. After I gave a press conference explaining how my artificial clouds would make the desert snow, people started laughing at me. Everyone was laughing except for New Zealand. They were upset that we were overshadowing their third Queenstown bid.
Of course, it wasn’t just the fact that we were trying to host the Winter Olympics during summer in the desert. You see, a lot of Winter Olympic events are alpine sports. So, mountain sports. The Stuart Ranges which skirt around Coober Pedy are around 212 meters above sea level. For my American friends, that equals nowhere near the 800 meters required for Olympic level downhill skiing events.
President Chan hadn’t overlooked that little fact, but seemed to think that either I or some other bright Aussie would be able to, I dunno, magic away the problem or something. This isn’t my cynical opinion on the issue either; she actually said so in a press conference. Though, in a more eloquent way. You know how politicians are.
Nat was brought onto the team as chief engineer, and was given the mission of making a mountain with an 800-meter vertical drop. We worked together, and eventually came up with a design for an underground cavern. We’d dig around a mountain about 530 meters deep, use the excavated material to build up the mountain to 300 meters, and carve a little alpine world into the cavern. I could then bring my clouds inside the cavern, and change the surface environment to a much lesser degree than originally planned.
Once the enormity of the plan was released, people all over the country were pointing out how idiotic it was. Why not just host the games on a mountain? Why not take them to Threadbo or Perisher Blue or somewhere that actually has snow? If you were going to build up a rural area, why start with such an isolated place?
All valid concerns, but ultimately they were brushed aside as more and more people got caught up in the sheer audacity of hosting the Winter Olympics in Coober Pedy. Nat and I got the go ahead to start excavating our underground ski slope before the International Olympic Committee even started considering the bids. After all, if we won, we’d need more than seven years to do this. If we didn’t, a ski resort in Coober Pedy would still bring out more people.
I also started sending a few clouds over the town so it wasn’t so dry. The laughs subsided a bit once people saw how my artificial cloud network made Coober Pedy green.
Which brings us to the environmentalists. There have always been concerns about the potential impact of my clouds on desert ecosystems, but our current proposal was extreme. Not to mention that digging a big hole in the beautiful Painted Desert reminded people too much of those open cut mines that almost destroyed the world. Finding a site that wasn’t too popular or beautiful yet was still close to Coober Pedy was a challenge, but it was one for the planning committee, not me.
So eventually a site was approved, but it was still a bit far from the town for the government’s liking. Oh well, they should know by now that they can’t have everything their own way. You’d have thought that the 2021 dismissal would have taught them that.
So three years before the host of the 2058 games was announced, we begun construction of the dugout alpine mountain. We were working closely with local entrepreneurs and the traditional owners of the land to create a ‘fire and ice’ resort, where tourists could one day explore the desert, and the next go skiing.
Well, I say we, but I wasn’t involved in this much. I was busy trying to work out how to get my clouds to go underground. I could make some of them in the cavern, but then I’d have to supply the water for them. And since the cavern wouldn’t be air-tight, too much moisture would leave the system. Way too much waste. So while all the camel tours, community sausage sizzles, press conferences, pretty much while everything you guys saw was happening, I was in the lab. I spent days on end trying to come up with a solution that did not involve creating the largest man-made structure ever made.
As I said before, it was not fun. I got hardly any sleep over those three years, my marriage fell apart, and I was an international laughing stock. But in the end, I made a breakthrough.
Before, domes were permanent structures made of steel. I discovered a way to keep the moisture within the system with a nanofiber material coated in hydrophobic chemicals. This material was more like cloth than steel, was somewhat transparent, and could be taken down and re-erected elsewhere.
Soon people were taking me and the Coober Pedy Olympics somewhat seriously. There had been concern about the amount of expensive venues that would become white elephants after the games. Now we could make huge domes for the snowboarding events that could be demolished after the games. After some consideration, another temporary dome was constructed on the back of our artificial mountain for the ski jumping events.
There was debate about whether we’d need a dome for the bobsled track. Actually, there was debate on everything to do with the bobsled track. Could we use the same track for luge and skeleton? Could we have the entire track out in the open and covered in synthetic ice? If it were an outdoor track, could the athletes compete at night to escape the desert heat? Would it be usable after the games, or should it be built just to last for the duration of the games and then demolished?
It was decided to build the track on the outskirts of Coober Pedy, exposed to the elements and coated with synthetic ice. There were concerns from athletes, but the media loved it. Concept drawings of bobsledders with the desert town in the background had a certain appeal about them.
Which is probably what influenced the controversial track designs for the cross country skiing, Nordic combined and biathlon. President Chan, the South Australian Premier and the Mayor of Coober Pedy all decided that seeing people skiing on paths of snow through the Painted Desert and the small town would be a great tourism advertisement.
Of course, you can imagine what I said when they asked me if I could make a 20km track out in the desert where the snow wouldn’t melt. But by then, I was too indispensable to be fired. I was ready to walk away right then and there.
Why didn’t I? Because I wanted to prove I could do it. I hate walking away from a challenge. So I went back to the lab and stayed up all night thinking. Giant dome over the town and surrounding area? Nope, even with my new material that would be too expensive. Bring thousands and thousands of water filled clouds from the tropics to Coober Pedy and just flood the place with snow? Nope. In order to get the temperature low enough for the snow not to melt within an hour I’d need… well I couldn’t come up with an exact number of clouds; I gave up the calculation once I realized that it would be impossible. Unless maybe the games were hosted at night in winter, but nope. They were being held in February and even if they weren’t, I couldn’t guarantee the safety of the environment if I brought in that many clouds. Plus, the water consumption; without a dome, so much water would soak into the dirt.
I lamented the fact that I couldn’t direct the evaporating water back to the clouds; then begun to wonder why not.
I called Keith; the guy who designed that quantum computer that keeps the clouds running. Together we started on a new design.
But how to explain this in layman’s terms? Alright, picture a tarp twenty meters wide, and 20kms long. While it looks as thick as a tarp, it’s a lot more clingy and flexible. It molds itself to the landscape, so that once the snow falls on it, it feels like a natural trail. You remember that? Good. Now imagine if you looked at it under a microscope and saw this network of canals, all lined with moveable scales that were able to direct water in either direction, depending on how we aligned them.
Above this tarp was a line of clouds. It felt pretty cold standing under them, and they dropped their snow on demand. Once empty, they went to these ‘reloading stations’; pretty much just domes to the side of the track, each one with a path of the track branching into it. Meanwhile, as the snow melted on the track, those micro-canals directed the melted water to the nearest reloading station. Once the reloading station was full of both water and clouds, we sealed it up, cranked up the heat and super sped the evaporation process. Then the clouds were ready to go out again and re-snow the track.
Once I came up with the basic idea, I realized that there was nothing stopping us from pumping other substances through the track to keep the snow cold. Liquid nitrogen was the main idea; millions of pipes running through the mat, encased in the hardest nanofiber we could manufacture. That would reduce the melting to an amount the reloading stations could handle.
Actually building a thin surface full of water canals, computer circuits and tubes of other chemicals that could be safely skied over was a lot harder in practice. But hey, this was back in 2050, the dawn of nanotech. Well not the dawn, but the start of it being practical I should say. Before then Nanotech only showed up in cheap science fiction to solve a lot of impossible engineering problems.
I think I’ll skip over all the technical details, just know that we got it working. But not before the International Olympic Committee met in 2051 to announce the host of the games. By then there were only two candidate cities left: Coober Pedy and Queenstown.
As you can imagine, that made the Winter Olympics more exciting. It was finally coming south of the equator after 134 years.
And I, as the public face of the effort to make the desert snow and a dinky-di Aussie, got my fair share of hate mail. I mentioned the environmentalists before; I heard from them more. A few religious nuts who thought I was playing God. Drought stricken farmers saying I was wasting my clouds on this, and Coober Pedy locals who, get this, weren’t happy with how their town was turning into a temporary city. Which wasn’t my problem. And in hindsight, well… you know what happened to Coober Pedy after the games. There were some successes, some failures. The Desert Ice Arena is getting torn down, but the stadium; people come from all over the red center to watch games there. The Saints might even win the AFL premiership again this year.
Sorry, I’m getting off topic here. Point is, yes a lot of the structures built for the games became white elephants, but there were successes too. But that made up only a small amount of my hate mail. Most people were pissed at me for ‘mocking the spirit of the games’ or ‘ruining a long running winter tradition’ or, ‘stealing New Zealand’s glory’.
Of course, they all had perfectly good points, but you have to understand, I was not at the time seeing all this decentralization or the actual games, I was just seeing a problem I had to solve. As much as I hated getting snow in that desert, I couldn’t stop. Those clouds were my babies, and I had to show all the naysayers just what they could do. Plus, by then my relationship with my wife and kids was ruined, so now I only had one mission: make the desert snow good enough for Coober Pedy to host the bloody Winter Olympics.
Yet at the same time, there was a part of me that was hoping Queenstown would get the games. You know, like, the mad scientist I had become wanted Coober Pedy to win, but there was still some small sane part left within me that realized that if Queenstown won, I could put this obsession behind me and everything would be better. All in all, I was not a fun person to be around at this point of my life. I think that’s the only reason I never had an affair with Nat. We keep in contact, but that ship has well and truly sailed.
As you know, the mad scientist got his wish. Coober Pedy won the bid. Coober Pedy 2058. Aussie Aussie Aussie… you all remember what that was like.
By this point, the underground mountain was complete, except for the snow. We had seven years to build everything else. I had seven years to bring the snow. Seven years of hate mail. Seven years of things going wrong. Seven years of having no social life. Yeah, it wasn’t fun.
But it was too late to back out by then. I’m not being dramatic, they tried it. Remember after Chan lost the 2052 election to Helms and his anti-waste campaign? Stopping the ‘Wasteful Winter Olympics’ was his key election promise. He came into office prepared to shut us down, but then he realized just how much money and resources had been put into the games. A huge part of the outback South Australian economy was relying on these games by that point.
So preparations for the games went ahead.
Until I hit another big problem.
A dust storm came and deposited a huge load of sand into our underground alpine village. What? Yes, we knew the area was prone to dust storms and built in protection measures. We had a sail roof that could be closed over the hole. What, yes that did make the underground area basically one big dome. Well, not really; a lot of moisture was lost into the floor. But still, getting the top of the mountain to snow was still giving me trouble.
We’re not talking about that though; we’re talking about the dust storm. It was huge and it struck without warning while I had the sails removed for an upgrade. It was like the desert waited until I wasn’t paying attention and then tried to correct my meddling with a huge sand dump.
The desert was a lot better at asserting its weather preferences than me. It wasn’t just the underground alpine area that got sand-logged. The half-built bobsled track took heavy damage, the dome over the ski jumping area actually had a panel fall in, and the hotel a prominent Canadian ski champion and winter sports magazine editor was staying in also got messed up. Within days, we had a PR disaster on our hands. That dust storm and the subsequent article got the Canadians pissed off at us. The Canadians!
So we had a PR problem. We also had a sand problem; it took ages to get all that crap out of our venues. Fortunately, that wasn’t my problem. Even more fortunately, getting all that sand from the bottom of the mountain to the surface gave me an idea to keep the top of the mountain snowy without a huge dome.
I’d been toying around with adjusting the water channeling features of the cross country track to get water from the bottom of the mountain to a reloading station at the surface, but technical limitations with the mat materials made running it vertically impossible. Once we started shoveling sand back to the surface though, I realized I’d been stupid. I’d been way over thinking the problem.
We built some run off drains, a reservoir, and an old fashion pumping system. The plumbers weren’t too happy with my proposal; they’d just finished all the bathrooms and stuff, and were still having trouble connecting the system with my delivery cloud’s reservoir and the new water recycling plant. The planners weren’t too happy with the plan either, because it was nowhere near efficient enough. We’d have to increase the amount of water delivered to the site and even then, keeping the mountain top snowy would still be a huge challenge. I still couldn’t get the snow on the mountain to stop melting. Perhaps that’s why I overlooked the solution in the first place. But by now we were running out of time, so they agreed to use this system and top up the exposed snow with some artificial stuff. Until I could find a way to make it the ‘all-natural’ snowy mountain I’d apparently promised.
I never did.
But I got close enough.
On the 18th of February 2058 the Coober Pedy games were opened. I complain about the Olympics a lot, but the Opening Ceremony was one of the best nights of my life. Did you watch it? Did you see the part where I got to go out in this arena full of people, and make my clouds dance? That was cool, moving them all around the stadium, having some clouds snow, some rain, and then to make that lightning bolt at the end. It was like suddenly, everything I’d done over the past eleven years had succeeded.
It also proved to everyone how viable the clouds were. Governments all over Africa and the Middle East were contacting me after that show, and it was that show that made the Americans decide to design a rain transport system to ease their droughts. Now my clouds are all over the world and I’m a rich man.
What’s so funny? Oh yeah, that video. Ahh yeah, Stephen Bradbury lighting the flame. I was laughing so hard when those other guys with the fake torches ran ahead of him and fell over. My favorite part of the ceremony though was President Chan’s speech. I think being President of the Australian Olympic Committee suited her better than being President of the Australian Republic.
I’ve memorized that stuff she said about the entire world being brought together ‘in awe of human determination and audacity not just amongst the athletes, but amongst the scientists and engineers as well.’ That really made me feel good. Made me feel less cynical about my involvement in dumping the pinnacle of winter sports in the desert for the amusement of the masses.
And you know what, she had a point. Those games were broadcast in more countries than any other Winter Olympics in history, and were the most watched. Coober Pedy also saw visitors arrive from a more diverse range of countries than any other Winter Olympics. Part of it may have been due to raising standards of living and more widespread use of TVs, but I think mostly its popularity was due to it being the desert games. The novelty brought in more viewers than the sports could, and Chan’s speech made me feel better about that. It was spun to sound like a good thing, and maybe it was.
Though, I think that German cross-country skier who lost his foot after an accident with the liquid nitrogen might disagree. I don’t think the athletes who suffered heat stroke or slipped on the melting water at the top of the mountain were that impressed either.
To be fair, there were some spectacular sporting moments during the games too. It wasn’t just people oohing and ahhing over the cross country skiers on snow with the sand and spectators on camels in the background. But damn those events were beautiful. Have you seen the Painted Desert? It’s completely desolate out there, and there are all these hills and mountains. And as the name implies, the terrain is multicolored thanks to the quirks of erosion. Even when that silly mascot was dancing around on the sidelines.
What? No, Shivery Shingleback was a stupid mascot. He was just a big lizard wrapped up all snug in a jumper and a scarf… wait, I’m getting off topic again. We’re talking great sports moments now.
Like the Jamaican bobsled team finally winning a medal. Bronze medals with big opals in them. How awesome was that? Or Ajax 875 becoming the first android to compete in an Olympics without getting lynched? It was great to see that prejudice overcome.
And what about the woman’s hockey final between the USA and Canada being labeled one of the greatest hockey games of all time? Or Australia winning more medals than at any other winter games? The games weren’t perfect, but they had their moments. Even when things went really wrong we still managed to have a good time.
Remember when towards the end of the games, a big dust storm hit? Having to postpone all those events and close up the hole was a big blow, but what did the athletes, spectators and reporters stranded in the snowboarding dome do? They held their events throughout the storm. It looked so surreal, these snow white half-pipes under a red sky. One reporter said it was like partying in hell. One snowboarder said it was like competing on Jupiter.
As I said, the Olympics weren’t fun for me. In hindsight, I will freely admit that I hated it, even though it saw my clouds travel all over the world. Sometimes when I reflect on the games and all I sacrificed to cover that bloody desert with snow, I wish I had a time machine so I could go back and stop myself from ever getting involved. For those sixteen days though, I was happy. I felt so damn proud of what I’d done, when I did another cloud show at the Closing Ceremony and took a bow before the crowd, that was a genuine smile on my face.
So yeah, that was all ten years ago. My relationship with my kids has improved since then; I’m actually a proud grandfather now. As for the decentralization goals… well that’s a mixed bag. A lot of rural towns have rain delivery clouds, and surveys show that more people are open to the idea of moving out of the cities. Coober Pedy has become a pretty large regional center now, although not all the infrastructure from the games has survived. I already mentioned that the ice arena is gone. All the domed arenas are gone, including the one for the alpine jumping. The Ice and Fire resort is a hugely successful tourist destination though, and ironically that bobsled track is still in use. Who would have thought that?
Even after all these years, I’m still a bit conflicted on whether or not the games were worth it. But I can say one thing with certainty.
Last week I got a call from someone claiming to be the Chairman of the International Lunar Colony. He asked me if I would be interested in working with their climate control personal so they could make a bid for the 2076 or 2080 games.
I didn’t stick around to find out if he was serious or not.
I hung up, blocked the number, and that was the end of that.”
Thank you Zwei for the artwork.