Feb 28, 2010

Olympics are over.

Well, they’re over: The 2010 Winter Olympic Games in our home city of Vancouver, Canada.

It was such a long awaited, anticipated event with such mixed emotion from the people who live here. Now it’s over, in a blink of time. We know of many who left town to bask on a tropical island while renting out their houses for a small fortune for two weeks. Others swapped houses with people of foreign lands. So they missed it, the wonderful excitement of it all. Because no matter what you think of a circus coming to town, or your city hosting the biggest party in the world, the atmosphere itself is something to bask in.

We played our part. We attended the opening event; ski jumping at the brand new Whistler Olympic Park. We also attended the preliminary pairs figure skating at the Pacific Coliseum where the Chinese couple began their skate for Olympic gold. Throughout the games we were glued to the High Definition TV, broadcasting on a 24-hour schedule. NBCs “Today” show built their facilities high on Grouse Mountain, and CTV broadcast all day every day with their affiliated stations. We could watch almost every run and re-run of each Olympic win all day and all night.

The opening ceremonies were spectacular. We were on the edge of our seats wondering how this opening event could ever compete with the standards set by the 2008 Beijing Summer Games, especially in the relatively small, BC Place stadium. But they did it. It was sensational and distinctly Canadian. When the Games started, we needed snow badly up on Cypress Mountain. It was warm. British writers said that this was the worst games ever. But we got the snow and we won gold medals up there. During the first week, Canadian officials were worried that we were not winning as many medals as we should. But by the second week, the athletes were proving they were great in every sport. Canada won gold, and we won more gold and more medals than ever before. There was victory, there was pride in achievement and pride in country.

Then there was the Canada vrs. USA hockey matches. The first one Canada lost. This gave them the practice to beat the others teams in the running and come back to go for gold with the USA. What a match. All the country was watching. Hockey is not just a sport in Canada, it’s a religion that unifies this diverse nation. Canada won and the nation celebrated and basked in the glory. In all, Canada won: 14 Gold, 7 silver and 5 bronze medals, an Olympic record for any country winning gold and a Canadian record medal count of 26.

We sang the national anthem more than any other time. Patriotism. Moments. Magic filled the air, and Canadians came together with excitement and enthusiasm, cheering our teams and politely acknowledging and sometimes cheering another country’s win. We bought the clothes: The toques and the now world-famous mitts. Vancouver was splashed with red and white and Olympic Hudson Bay clothes everywhere. The Olympic spirit was embraced by the whole country. What an exciting time to be here. What a glorious experience.

And the ones who left? They probably returned and their lives were none the wiser, having missed life itself: The greatest show on earth.

“Hockey is not a sport in Canada. It’s a cult.”

- Brian Burke. (USA men’s team GM)

“The first thing is to love your sport. Never do it to please someone else. It has to be yours.”

- Peggy Fleming (American figure skater, 1968 Winter Olympics)

"What is next? I don't know. Sleep, and then take on the world."
Shaun White (American snowboarder , after he won gold)

Feb 12, 2010

Olympics are here.

As a kid growing up in England, I loved to watch the Olympic Games on TV, but then I discovered the Winter Olympics and I was even more enthralled. I’d watch the bobsled, the skating and the downhill skiing, but the thrill for me was the ski jumping. These men on wide wooden skis would go hurtling down high mountain runs and steep ramps at ultra fast speeds, then throw themselves into the air with a whoosh and a simple elegance that turned them into flying angels. They seemed to stand on air for an endless time until gravity would glide them gently to land, with graceful flair on the snow at the end of their flight. This was magic to me. All hands would raise from the crowd and people would cheer for the victor. Wow, I couldn’t wait to watch the Winter Games every four years.

To me, the Winter Olympics were always in more exotic places than the Summer games. Places like: Innsbruck Switzerland, Sapporo Japan and Sarajevo Yugoslavia. They even came to Calgary Alberta, and at one time I thought of learning to ski. I went to a junior slope near where I lived, but found out the hard way that my ski laden feet wanted to go in different directions. For the sake of my profession, I decided then and there that I didn’t need broken legs, muscles or limbs to impede a life’s work that I loved.

I never thought of going to the Games until I saw the spectacular TV coverage from the 1992 games in Albertville France and then the 1994 games in Lillehammer Norway. Lillehammer is such a small town, yet they invited the world to the biggest party on Earth. And they built a spectacular Olympic Stadium at the base of the ski jump. This is where they held the opening and closing ceremonies and I was glued. From that time on, I dreamed of one day attending the Winter games. Well, time passed and the games were in places I just didn’t want to go, or I couldn’t break away from my busy schedule. But this year, the Winter Olympic Games came to me.

Today, we attended the first event of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games at the newly constructed Olympic Park near Whistler British Columbia. And guess what? This event was the Ski Jumping I had dreamed of experiencing.

Olympic security in Vancouver is horrendous for normal citizens. They advise, “be early.” We were up at 3 am to catch the 5 am, two hour bus drive, north to the park. It was unfortunately dark, because we were driving past some of the most spectacular British Columbia scenery on the Sea to Sky highway. From there we cleared through security and hiked to the brand new Olympic Ski Jump where only a month before someone had broken a world record.

Spectacular. We were high in the Coastal Mountains. The air was brisk. Being there was a thrill. The athletes in colourful, tight costumes were speeding down the slope, jumping through the air and flying down the mountain to a grounding on the packed snow with the greatest of ease, skill and feelings. The enthusiast crowd cheered for each of the jumpers but the best athletes shone. Good ski jumping is about the fine art of balance, and a total body awareness and a feeling for the air and wind currents make this sport an art. This day they were creating great art at great speed.

Ski Jumping is dangerous as are most Olympic sports, and accidents happen when an athlete will make one fatal slip while hurtling through the air at endless speed. Today was good for ski jumping. Not so fortunate for a young Luge athlete from Georgia who died while on a practice run at the newly built Whistler run. The fastest track in the world. A sad moment indeed.

Today my Olympic thrill brought many emotions.

“Champions aren't made in the gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them -- a desire, a dream, a vision.”
Muhammad Ali

“Becoming an Olympian is the ultimate reward for any athlete.”
Michael Diamond

“I just wanted to be an athlete.”
Merlin Olsen