Olympics in Vancouver

Visit to the Olympics in Vancouver
By Sam Louke
February 21‐23, 2010

Inukshuk, the symbol of the 2010 Olympics

Inukshuk, the symbol of the 2010 Olympics

I recently returned from a two‐day visit to Vancouver to see the Olympics. My daughter, Marissa, flew in from Clarksville, TN where she now lives with her husband and we drove up to Vancouver from Portland and stayed with an old college friend of hers. The first night we were there we went downtown to see the excitement and have All‐You‐Can‐Eat Sushi at Tanpopo Garden Restaurant. When Marissa went to the University of British Columbia a few years ago we ate there and it is one of our favorite sushi restaurants in Vancouver.

Forest of trees on Burrard St. pedestrian mall

Forest of trees on Burrard St. pedestrian mall

One difference I immediately noticed about Vancouver was all of the artwork in the parks and around town. There were large numbers of sculptures placed in every park that we walked by. Some were lit up and others looked like outlines of athletes skating and skiing, etc. that you could walk up to and pose with for a picture. On one street there an entire forest of “trees” on plywood bases that you could walk through.

Biking around Stanley Park – every sculpture had those red mittens on

Biking around Stanley Park – every sculpture had those red mittens on

Monday morning before we saw our first event, Marissa and I rented bicycles and rode the eight mile circuit around Stanley Park. The sun was shining and it was actually warm. I was worried about getting a sunburn! The first event we saw was the Men’s Freestyle Skiing Arial Qualifications on Cypress Mountain on Monday evening.

To get to the Cypress events, we had to purchase a special bus pass to get to the mountain, since there are no private cars allowed at the ski area during the Olympics. We chose to take public transit from our hosts’ house to meet the bus at Capalano University. Since Marissa had lived in Vancouver for 6 years, she knew most of the bus lines by heart. She just had a short conversation with our host on the best line to take and we were off! Public transit in Vancouver is very good, with many bus lines criss‐crossing the city and a new sky‐train (actually a subway in downtown) going to the airport and suburbs. If you held a ticket to an Olympic competition they let you ride for free all day of the event. When we boarded our Olympic bus, we had a one hour ride up the mountain just north‐west of Vancouver.

Marissa in line for security (the back half of the line behind us was just as long).

Marissa in line for security (the back half of the line behind us was just as long).

When we arrived at the venue, there was a quarter‐mile‐long line with thousands of people waiting to go through security. It didn’t take long, however (I think they’ve done this before), and we were on our way to seeing the event. There were two security lines when we got close: One for people with backpacks and the like with x‐ray machines and metal detectors and one for people with purses, etc. with only metal detectors and hand searching of bags. Since we had no backpacks we chose the expedited line.

The weather was warm, sunny and glorious! We brought heavy coats, however, since we knew that it would get cold after the sun went down. We had a wonderful viewing area, standing right in front of the grandstand. The only drawback was that we were standing on fresh snow that they had made the night before with the snow‐making machines on the hill. Before the night was over, everyone was packed in like sardines and we were standing on packed snow and ice and our feet were pretty cold. The good news is we were warm from the ankle up from all the bodies packed in tightly!

Giant Jumbotron and Scoreboard

Giant Jumbotron and Scoreboard

We watched the practice runs until 6pm, then they groomed the hill for the competition. It started promptly at 7pm and all 24 athletes were done with their first jump in 50 minutes. After a few minutes of intermission, it all repeated again for their second jump and was over by about 8pm. What struck me most about it was the party atmosphere at the site, with the announcers running the show as MC’s. You don’t get that impression watching it on TV because the TV announcers just discuss each jump and the score and maybe some background on the skiers.

The audience playing with inflatable balls

The audience playing with inflatable balls

The MC’s at the event kept the crowd excited and walked through the stands before the event interviewing people on camera. They also easily slid from English to French while they were talking, taking great pains to say everything in both languages since Canada is bilingual. They also launched a few large inflatable balls for the crowd to play with prior to the competition.

After the event we took the bus back to Vancouver, thoroughly exhausted but satisfied! We met our hosts for more partying in Robson Square in downtown.

Curling

Great Norwegian team pants!

Great Norwegian team pants!

On Tuesday, we didn’t have as far to go to see our next event. The curling round robin event was in the Vancouver Olympic Centre only a few blocks from where we were staying. Throughout the Olympics, there are 12 sessions of curling, with each team playing multiple times to decide who should play in the semifinal and final medal rounds. Our session was the last round robin event and pitted Canada vs. China, Sweden vs. Denmark, Great Britain vs. Norway, and Switzerland vs. France, each on a separate sheet in the venue.

Canadians determining where their next stone should go

Canadians determining where their next stone should go

Needless to say, each time Canada made a good play, they were cheered wildly. One man sitting behind us even had a cowbell app on his iPhone! I won’t go into the rules here (since I still don’t understand all of them) but they are pretty well spelled out at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curling. Basically the teams each slide eight stones down the sheet of ice and the team with the most stones nearest the center of the house (the circle at the end) wins points. Canada won their match against China 10‐3, and I heard that later they won the gold medal.

Curling underway on all four sheets

Curling underway on all four sheets

Night Life

Ice rink and band stage

Ice rink and band stage

Our first night in town, Marissa and I walked downtown with our hosts to enjoy the party taking place. Robson square was full of people and promptly at 9:30pm a pyrotechnic show began that included jets of fire, loud music, and fireworks and athletes sliding down the now‐famous zip line – with skis and snowboards on! Burrard and Robson streets were closed and turned into pedestrian malls with large sculptures, artwork, and bands playing everywhere. At the center of Robson square they had built a small underground ice rink that spanned Robson Street that the public was welcome to skate on. There was a small stage next to it and a Caribbean band was playing to the large crowd that was there to celebrate the Canadians winning gold.

Mounties guarding the flame

Mounties guarding the flame

There were so many people in the streets that it was difficult to walk very far – wall‐to‐wall people! People with flags from most of the nations were visible, particularly one group dancing and singing and holding up a Brazilian flag. Later at night, there was a full fireworks show over the harbor by the Olympic flame. It could be seen and heard all over the city.

This was truly a once in a lifetime experience, especially since it was so close to home and we had a place to stay (we heard that hotels were sold out in all the towns nearby and that rooms were $300 even in the “no‐star” hotels). The weather was perfect and my favorite part was not the Olympics at all – it was riding the bike around Stanley Park in the warm sun and enjoying the views of the city from the other side of English Bay.

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