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The 2010 Vancouver
Winter Olympics

A Lifelong Goal

My father, a truly remarkable man, passed away at age 79 in 2002.  One of the most important things he taught me was the importance of setting goals for yourself.  And so, being an avid sports fan (as in "fanatic"), one of my lifelong goals has been to attend an Olympic games -- somewhere, somehow, someday.  I've loved the Olympics for as long as I can remember, and especially the Winter Olympics because they usually have a cozier and more intimate feel than the monstrous summer games.

 

Oh, how I wish I could've attended a Winter Olympics, especially the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway, made famous by that notorious, knee-capping figure skater, Tonya Harding (Portland's very own!)  Those Olympics also introduced the world to the 20-foot high, dancing inflatable figures that you now see on almost every street corner, twisting to-and-fro while hawking either used cars or discount tattoos, take your pick.  But despite Tonya Harding and those irritating dancing figures, I always thought the 1994 Winter Olympics were the best games ever held and I wish I could've gone.

 

Above:  Aussie comedians Roy and H.G. broadcasting from Salt Lake City in 2002.  While I was in Australia, I watched these guys describe Americans to Aussies each night and never laughed so hard.

I've watched every Olympic games on TV, both summer and winter, since I was a little kid.  But although I've lived close to several Olympic Games, I had never attended one.  In 1980, when the summer Olympics were held in Los Angeles, I was living only 50 miles away but was going to college at the time and, being dirt poor, couldn't afford to go to the games.  I was living in Portland in 1988 but didn't attend the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, Alberta -- about a 13 hour drive from Portland -- because I was, once again, dirt poor (is there a pattern here?) 

 

In 2002 when the summer Olympics were held in Salt Lake City, I could afford to go, having worked at a "real job" for the past 10 years.  But unfortunately I was traveling around Australia at the time, so I didn't attend those Olympics either.  However, watching the Salt Lake City games from Australia was a real treat and I laughed every night, along with every other Aussie, as the Australian TV commentators, Roy and H.G., poked fun at America and all things American, including the incredible amount of fat that we Americans consume.  I described their humorous commentary in my March 1, 2002 update from Australia.

 

When the 2010 Winter Games opened in Vancouver, British Columbia in February, I decided to drive up and see them, figuring that I'd probably never have a better opportunity to attend an Olympics.  Vancouver is a six-hour drive from Portland and only an hour from my sister's house in Bellingham, Washington, near the Canadian border, so with my Dad's goal-oriented approach to life firmly in mind, I was determined to go.

 

Above:  Two of the three tickets I bought on the exchange.  These are for the bronze medal match in women's curling and a medals ceremony at BC Place.

As I started planning my trip to Vancouver, though, I learned that tickets to the events were not only hard to come by, but they were also really expensive.  It wasn't a problem if you were Canadian, because the Olympic Committee had allocated a large chunk of cheap tickets for Canucks.  But if you weren't from Canada -- and most Americans aren't -- you were out of luck because virtually all the tickets to the events had already been snatched up by our friends living north of the border.

 

However, the Olympics had set up an online "ticket exchange" as they called it, which was basically a legitimized scalper's website where anyone with a ticket could try to sell it for any price.  Lots of Canadians took advantage of this program and, immediately after buying their cheap tickets from the Olympic Committee, posted them on the exchange, hoping to make a few bucks (sort of like an American foreign aid program for Canadians, I suppose).

 

I looked at my work schedule and realized that the last Friday of the winter games was the best time to go, so I checked the events on Friday and was able to buy three tickets on the exchange.  I bought tickets for the:

  • Women's bronze-medal curling match on Friday morning,

  • The team pursuit speed skating quarterfinals in the afternoon, and

  • The medals ceremony, which was held each night at BC Place, an indoor stadium. 

The tickets certainly weren't cheap.  I paid about $400 just for my speed skating ticket (yikes!), an astronomical sum for this notoriously thrifty tightwad.  But I figured that attending this Olympics was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  Hopefully it is, anyway, for the sake of my wallet.

 

Above:  My Dutch friend, Martin, cradling his beloved Dutch beer, Heineken at a Thai restaurant in Bellingham after our drive up from Portland.

Martin, a friend of mine from work, asked if he could come along and I heartily obliged.  Martin is Dutch and has always wanted to see a speed skating race in person, because it's the national sport in Holland, which is also known as the Netherlands, which is also known as that place where Dutch people live.  He didn't buy any tickets in advance, though, figuring that he'd try his luck once he got to Vancouver.  He decided that if he couldn't score a ticket there, he would just walk around Vancouver and soak up the Olympics atmosphere.

Curling for Bronze

Martin and I left Portland on Thursday morning and drove up Interstate 5, reaching my sister's house in Bellingham late that night after a great Thai dinner at Busara's, my favorite restaurant in Bellingham.  I slept in my sister's house that night but Martin had to sleep in the garage.  I won't describe exactly why, but I will say that by morning, he had become intimately familiar with my Honda van.  We left Bellingham on Friday morning around 6 a.m. and reached Vancouver about 90 minutes later, then I dropped Martin off at the Richmond skating oval because he wanted to see if he could snag a ticket to speed skating, and I headed up into Vancouver.  I wouldn't see him until late that night, when we would reconnect before driving back to Bellingham.

 

Above:  Waiting to get into the bronze medal curling match at 8:30 a.m.  There were lines for everything at the Olympics but everyone was in a good mood.

My first event was the women's bronze medal match in curling, which started at 9:00 on Friday morning.  When I had bought my ticket online through the scalper's website a few days earlier, I had no idea who would be playing in this match, but as it turned out, it was Switzerland versus China.  That was interesting, I thought, because although my last name, Leu, sounds Chinese it's actually Swiss, meaning "lion" in the Swiss-German language.  I figured I would be the only Swiss-Chinese person (well, sort of) in the entire curling rink. 

 

I also had no idea how long the lines would be, so here's a tip:  if you ever go to an Olympics, be prepared to wait in line for a long time just to get into the venues.  There are metal detectors at every venue and it's much like going through security at an airport but with much longer lines and drizzle.  Lots of drizzle.  I didn't realize that and was 30 minutes late getting into the curling match and by then, the Chinese had taken a big lead.  But heck, I didn't care about the lines or anything else because, after waiting a lifetime, I was actually at an Olympics!

 

  

--  Del and Martin's 2010 Olympics Adventure  --

 

Here's a video of my trip from Portland, Oregon  to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada with my friend, Martin.  I shot this with my cell phone.

   

Curling is an interesting event, something like "shuffleboard on ice" with a dash of billiards thrown in.  Curling is the most popular sport in Canada next to hockey, but in the U.S. it's virtually unknown.  I tried it a few years ago when I lived in Seattle at the only curling rink on the west coast of America and played better than I thought I would, and I enjoyed it immensely.  Although most Americans know little about the sport, up in Canada there's a curling rink in virtually every town and village.  And from what the Canadian fans at the match told me, the curling rink is often the social hub for the whole town, where they usually drink beer and eat snacks after (and sometimes also before) the curling match.  Curling is big in Canada -- and thanks to the beer and snacks, so are many of the curlers there.

 

The bronze medal curling match lasted about two hours and the stands were raucous and lively, even though most folks there weren't either Chinese or Swiss but rather Canadian.  The Swiss tied the game about halfway through, but then the Chinese staged a big rally and the Swiss conceded, which is another strange thing about curling, that you can actually concede a match.  No wonder this game doesn't go over well in the ultra-competitive United States, where the only things most of us Americans will ever concede are our expanding beltlines and receding hairlines.

 

       

Above left:  After a long drive from Portland to Bellingham on Thursday, I got up early on Friday morning to drive into Vancouver, about an hour away.

Above center:  I dropped Martin off at the main ticket building then headed over to the curling rink.  After waiting in line for an hour in the drizzle, I made it inside.

Above right:  My wallet and I bypassed the merchandise booth.

 

   

Above left:  I finally made it into the curling rink, a half-hour late, to watch the women's bronze medal match between China and Switzerland.  This is the media gallery.

Above right:  That's me on international TV, entering the curling rink.  I'm wearing a white pullover and am under the green Olympics banner on the left side.  Hey, I'm a star!

 

   

Above left:  The Chinese (in red) took an early lead against the Swiss, then the Swiss rallied.  I can still hear the Swiss fans chanting, "Hopp, Schweiz!" which I think means, "Let's go, Switzerland."  Being of Swiss ancestry, of course, I rooted for my countrywomen.

Above right:  The Swiss were on a comeback!

 

       

Above left:  Almost all the fans were Canadian, so I don't think they really cared who won.

Above center:  Carmen Schaeffer, a Swiss curler.  I learned how to curl a few years ago when I lived in Seattle.  But unfortunately, I never met any curlers who looked like Carmen.

Above right:  After a couple hours, the Swiss conceded, leaving the Chinese with their first-ever curling medal. 

 

   

Above left:  The Chinese athletes were very gracious and appreciative.

Above right:  The curling crowd leaving after the match.  Time for beer and snacks!

Speeding Over to Speed Skating

After curling, I waited in line to take transit, known as the SkyTrain, over to the Richmond Park skating oval, where I waited in another line to get inside and watch the pursuit speed skating quarterfinals.  But like all the lines I stood in, everyone was in a good mood.  While waiting in the seemingly-interminable line to go through the metal detector, I struck up a friendly conversation with some nice folks from Australia.  We had a lot to talk about, since I'd spent a few months in Australia about 10 years ago -- and during the Winter Olympics, no less -- which I've documented all too well earlier on my website.   

 

 

What story about the Olympics would be complete without Vangelis' classic? This is the theme song of Chariots of Fire.

   

I finally got into the skating oval, bought a hot dog and some popcorn, and found my seat.  Once again, I sat down about 30 minutes after the event had started.  In pursuit speed skating, which is a relatively new event at the Olympics, two teams of skaters chase each other around the rink and the team with the slowest speed, determined by the slowest skater, loses. 

 

It's an exciting event and I really enjoyed it.  And so did the throngs of other fans there, almost all of whom were, once again, Canadian and decked out in red -- except for some goofy Dutch guys a few rows down who were wearing big, fluffy orange wigs and who stood up and cheered madly every time the orange-clad Dutch speed skating team skated by.  These guys were as enthusiastic for their Dutch speed skating team as the "Hoppe, Schweiz" guys had been about the Swiss curling team.  But, of course, that's what makes the Olympics great.

 

Speaking of goofy Dutch guys, Martin had scored a ticket (and about $300 cheaper than mine, go figure) and was enjoying the event, as well.  Actually, he's not that goofy.  But as we realized later, he WAS sitting only a few rows behind me.  Unfortunately though, we didn't see each other because, sadly, he had left his fluffy orange wig at home.

 

       

Above left:  After curling it was on to speed skating.  The rink was several miles away, so I took the SkyTrain.

Above center:  Many of the Olympic competition venues were scattered around town, so the SkyTrain was a great way to get around.

Above right:  I finally reached the Richmond speed skating oval -- where I waited in another long line to get inside.  The lines were mostly due to security because every spectator had to go through a metal detector to enter the venue.

 

   

Above left:  I finally got in, though 30 minutes after it had started.  This was the quarterfinal round of the pursuit speedskating event where teams of three skaters chase each other around the rink.  The team's time is based on that of its slowest skater.

Above right:  The fans went crazy over the Canadian team.

 

       

Above left:  A happy fan enjoying the pursuit speed skating event.

Above center:  The Russian women's team warming up.

Above right:  Orange-wigged Dutch fans were crazy about their team.

 

   

Above left:  After an hour it was time for the Zambonis and a brass band.

Above right:  The backside of a Zamboni.  Ooh, shiny ice!

 

   

Above left:  Here's another screenshot of an international television broadcast.  That's me in white in the lower right corner, adjusting my camera.  Between this and the curling broadcast earlier, I'm sure the millions of people who were watching around the world were getting tired of seeing me.

Above right:  The American women's team beat the Dutch, so I was sure Martin was weeping in his Heineken somewhere.

"You Gotta Be Here"

The speed skating event finished around 3 p.m., so I had about three hours before the medals ceremony at BC Place stadium.  I took the SkyTrain into downtown Vancouver and walked around in the friendly drizzle, soaking in all the street activities.  It was really lively out on the streets, most of which were blocked off to cars, and everyone was having a great time.  The gold medal women's curling match between Canada and Sweden was being broadcast live on a large TV at an outdoor kiosk and that attracted several hundred fans, almost all of whom were Canadian, plus myself.  All of us -- Canadians and Americans alike -- were standing in the steady drizzle for an hour while chanting "Can-a-da!  Can-a-da!"  But alas, the Canadian women lost at the very end.

 

After that heartbreaking defeat, I walked over to BC Place stadium where I -- you guessed it -- stood in another line, although this one went pretty fast.  Then I found my seat and watched the medals ceremony for the next hour.  After that, a band came out on stage and began to play, but by now it was 9 p.m. and I had to meet Martin and get back to my sister's house.  We met up, found the van and started driving back to Bellingham, then Martin told me about his Olympics adventure that day.  He was ecstatic, having gotten to watch the Dutch speed skating team after all these years (though he was a little less ecstatic when he, once again, slept in my sister's garage that evening).  The next day we returned to Portland, tired but very happy.

 

It had been a great trip and I'm glad I finally experienced an Olympics first-hand.  The marketing motto of the Vancouver Olympics was, "You Gotta Be Here" and I'm really glad I got off my duff and went.  I hope to attend another Winter Olympics someday, but if not, I'll forever savor the memories of Vancouver 2010.  And I'm sure Martin will, too -- except for that part about my sister's garage.

 

   

Above left:  Waiting for the SkyTrain after leaving the speedskating rink.  Cheerful drawings made by school children in British Columbia were posted on the fences here.

Above right:  I took the SkyTrain again, this time into downtown Vancouver.

 

       

Above left:  The streets of Vancouver were jammed with tourists on Friday afternoon.  Many folks came to Vancouver just to hang out on the streets, without having tickets to any Olympic events.

Above center:  Although the Olympics are, of course, an international event, about 90% of the folks I saw on the streets and in the venues were Canadian.  Everyone I met was very kind, as Canadians usually are, so I called these games the "Polite Olympics."

Above right:  A street performer entertaining the crowd.

 

   

Above left:  As the Olympics advertising slogan said, "You gotta be here!"  The weather was drippy but not too cold, and everyone seemed to have a good time and was in good spirits.

Above right:  I spent an hour in the drizzle at this kiosk watching the televised gold medal woman's curling match between Canada and Sweden.  There were several hundred Canadians here cheering on their team, as did I.  Team Canada had a big lead but lost the match right at the end.

 

       

Above left:  After that, I hustled over to BC Place, the large indoor stadium where they held the opening and closing ceremonies for the Vancouver Olympics.

Above center:  They held the medal awards ceremony at BC Place every evening and played lots of national anthems, more than I can remember.

Above right:  And each night after the awards ceremony, a different Canadian band took the stage and played for a couple of hours.  There were several thousand people in BC Place and it was a giant party.  What a great Olympics -- if only for a day!

 


 

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