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February 27, 2011 (Portland, Oregon)

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The 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics



My Dad taught me that it's always important to have goals in life, and one of my lifelong goals has been to attend an Olympics.  Being a sports fan -- no, make that fanatic -- I've loved the Olympics ever since I was a little kid, especially the Winter Olympics with its cozier and more intimate atmosphere.  


I've lived close to several Olympic Games but had never been to one.  In 1980, I was living in southern California but was in college at the time and, being dirt poor, I couldn't afford to see the summer Olympics in Los Angeles.  I was living in Portland in 1988 but didn't attend the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary because I was, once again, dirt poor (is there a theme here?)  In 2002 when the Olympics were in Salt Lake City, I actually could afford it, after having worked in an office for 10 years, but -- wouldn't you know -- I was traveling around Australia, so I didn't attend those Olympics, either.  However, watching the games in Australia instead of in the U.S. was a real treat and I laughed every night along with every other Aussie as the Australian TV commentators poked fun at America, as I described in a 2002 update from Australia.


When the 2010 Winter Games opened in Vancouver, British Columbia, I figured I better attend, because I'd probably never have a better opportunity to see an Olympics.  Vancouver is a six hour drive from Portland and only an hour from my sister's house in Bellingham, Washington, so I was determined to see the games.  And so that's what I did. 


As I started planning my trip to Vancouver, I quickly realized that tickets to the events were not only hard to come by, but they were really, really expensive, too.  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 just about out of luck because virtually all the tickets to the events had already been snatched up.  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.  I looked at my work schedule and realized that the last Friday of the games was the best time to go, so I looked at the events on Friday and bought three tickets:  to the women's bronze-medal curling match, the team pursuit speed-skating quarterfinals, and the medals ceremony for that day, which is held each night at the enclosed BC Place stadium.  The tickets weren't cheap -- I paid about $400 for my speed-skating ticket, yikes! -- but I figured this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.


A friend of mine from work, Martin, wanted to come along, which was great.  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 he'd try his luck once he got to Vancouver.  He decided if he couldn't score a ticket, that would be fine and he'd just walk around Vancouver soaking up the Olympics atmosphere.


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.  I slept in the house but Martin had to sleep in my sister's garage that night for reasons I won't go into, but let's just say that by morning he was intimately familiar with my van.  We left Bellingham Friday morning at 6 a.m. and reached Vancouver around 7:30, 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 reconnected before driving back to Bellingham.


My first event was the women's bronze medal curling match.  When I bought my ticket online through the scalper's website a few days earlier, I had no idea who'd be playing in this match, but as events played out, it was Switzerland against China.  I also had no idea how long the lines would be, either, so here's a tip:  if you 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 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!


Curling is an interesting sport and, next to hockey, it's the most popular sport in Canada -- though in the U.S., it's virtually unknown.  Basically, curling is like shuffleboard-on-ice and I tried it myself a few years ago when I lived in Seattle at the only curling rink on the west coast of America.  Canadians aren't as disadvantaged, though, because there's a curling rink in virtually every town and village in Canada.  And from what the Canadian fans at the match told me, the curling rink is often the main meeting place for the whole town. 


Busara's Restaurant in Bellingham    Curling Match at the Vancouver Olympics    Curling Match at the Vancouver Olympics

Above left:  My Dutch friend, Martin, cradling his beloved Dutch beer, Heineken in Bellingham.

Above center:  The first event I attended at the Olympics was the bronze medal match for women's curling.  This is Friday morning at 8:30 a.m., waiting to enter the curling rink.  There were lines for everything at the Olympics, but everyone was in a good mood and it wasn't a problem.

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



Curling Match at the Vancouver Winter Olympics    Carmen Schaeffer at the Vancouver Olympics    Chinese Curling Team

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

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

Above right:  After a couple hours, the Swiss conceded, leaving the Chinese with their first-ever curling medal.  The Chinese athletes were very gracious and appreciative.


Speeding Over to Speed-Skating

The 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 uber-competitive United States where the only thing I concede is my receding hairline.


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 watch the pursuit speed skating quarterfinals.  But like all the lines, everyone was in a good mood here and I struck up a friendly conversation with some nice folks from Australia.  We had a lot to talk about, of course, since I'd spent a few months in Australia about 10 years ago -- during the Winter Olympics, as you know -- a fact that's documented all too well elsewhere on my website.   


I finally got into the skating oval, bought a hot dog and some popcorn, and found my seat -- again, about 30 minutes after the event 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 pretty exciting 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 two goofy Dutch guys a few rows down who were wearing big, fluffy orange wigs.  And 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 goofy but as we realized later, he was sitting only a few rows from me, though we didn't see each other. 


Skytrain at the Vancouver Olympics    Skytrain at the Vancouver Olympics    Richmond Oval at the Vancouver Olympics

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, but the SkyTrain was a great way to get around.

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



Pursuit Skating at the Vancouver Olympics    Pursuit Skating, Vancouver Winter Olympics    Zamboni, Vancouver Winter Olympics

Above left:  But I finally got in, and only 30 minutes after it 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 center:  The Russian women's team warming up.

Above right:  There was a break after an hour.  Time for the Zambonis.



Speedskating Crowd, Vancouver Olympics    U.S. Women Speedskating Team, Vancouver Winter Olympics    Skytrain, Vancouver Winter Olympics

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 watching around the world were getting tired of seeing me.

Above center:  The American women's team beat the Dutch and advanced to the semifinals the next day.  Like the pink skates?

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


You Gotta Be Here

After speed-skating, I had about three hours before the medals ceremony at BC Place stadium, so I took 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.  I watched the Canadian women play in the gold medal curling match on TV at an outdoor kiosk along with several hundred Canadians.  I actually found myself cheering with them, "Can - a - da, Can - a - da," which was strange for an American, I suppose. But alas, they lost. 


After that heartbreaking defeat, I walked over to BC Place stadium where -- you guessed it -- I 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 and played for several hours, but by now it was about 9 p.m. and I had to meet Martin and get back to Bellingham.  Martin slept in my sister's garage again that night, and again for reasons I can't divulge, then the next day we returned to Portland, tired but happy.


It was a great trip and I'm glad I finally experienced an Olympics first-hand.  I hope I'll be able to attend another Winter Olympics but if not, I'll forever savor the memories of Vancouver 2010.  And I'm sure Martin will, too -- well, except for that part about the garage.


Street Scene, Vancouver Winter Olympics    Street Scene, Vancouver Winter Olympics    Street Scene, Vancouver Winter Olympics

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

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



Gold Medal Curling Match, Vancouver Winter Olympics    Medalsl Ceremony, Vancouver Winter Olympics    Band at Medal Ceremony, Vancouver Olympics

Above left:  I spent an hour in the drizzle at this kiosk watching the televised gold medal woman's curling match, Canada vs. 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 center:  After that, I hustled over to BC Place, the large enclosed stadium where they held the opening and closing ceremonies.  Each evening, they held the medal awards ceremony here with lots of national anthems played.

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



Next News

March 9, 2012:  Room at the Inn


Previous News

January 7, 2010:  Belize Trip #4 (Building an Orphanage for Jaime and Nancy)

July 29, 2009:  A Wedding in Tucson and a Road Trip to Montana

April 18, 2009:  Belize Trip #3 (Building a School with NYU)

January 24, 2009:  Abu Dhabi and a Road Trip in Oman

January 5, 2009:  Belize Trip #2 (Two Schools and an Orphanage)

July 6, 2008:  Around the World in Eight Days (Part 2: Abu Dhabi to Portland)

July 6, 2008:  Around the World in Eight Days (Part 1: Portland to Abu Dhabi)

February 20, 2008:  The San Antonio School  (San Ignacio, Belize)

February 17, 2008:  The Succotz Library  (San Ignacio, Belize)

February 16, 2008:  Old Friends / Belize it or Not  (San Ignacio, Belize)

May 28, 2007:  Oregon Bound  (Portland, Oregon)

August 7, 2005: Back To Work  (Redmond, Washington)

June 25, 2004: Life in Bellingham  (Bellingham, Washington)

December 7, 2003: The Greatest Generation  (Bellingham, Washington)

March 28, 2003: My Father  (Bellingham, Washington)

October 30, 2002  (Bellingham, Washington)

July 24, 2002  (Princess Louisa Inlet, British Columbia)

July 12, 2002  (Lake City, Colorado)

July 4, 2002: Life as a Ranger, Part 2  (Lake City, Colorado)

July 4, 2002: Life as a Ranger, Part 1  (Lake City, Colorado)

July 1, 2002  (Looking Glass Rock, Utah)

June 25, 2002  (Lassen Volcanic National Park, California)

June 18, 2002: Part 2  (Port Orford, Oregon)

June 18, 2002: Part 1  (Port Orford, Oregon)

May 22, 2002  (Bellingham, Washington)

April 7, 2002  (Sydney, Australia)

April 4, 2002  (Coffs Harbour, Australia)

April 1, 2002  (Hervey Bay, Australia)

March 28, 2002  (Airlie Beach, Australia)

March 25, 2002  (Port Douglas, Australia)

March 16, 2002  (Winton, Australia)

March 13, 2002  (Alice Springs, Australia)

March 11, 2002  (Ayers Rock, Australia)

March 8, 2002  (Coober Pedy, Australia)

March 5, 2002  (Port Augusta, Australia)

March 1, 2002: Part 2  (Robe, Australia)

March 1, 2002: Part 1  (Robe, Australia)

February 18, 2002  (Bega, Australia)

February 7, 2002  (Auckland, New Zealand)

February 2, 2002: Part 2  (Taupo, New Zealand)

February 2, 2002: Part 1  (Taupo, New Zealand)

January 25, 2002  (Hokitika, New Zealand)

January 20, 2002  (Geraldine, New Zealand)

January 16, 2002  (Te Anau, New Zealand)

January 12, 2002: Part 2  (Dunedin, New Zealand)

January 12, 2002: Part 1  (Dunedin, New Zealand)

January 1, 2002: Part 2  (Christchurch, New Zealand)

January 1, 2002: Part 1  (Christchurch, New Zealand)

December 24, 2001  (Wellington, New Zealand)

December 20, 2001  (Auckland, New Zealand)

December 16, 2001  (Auckland, New Zealand)

December 14, 2001  (Aitutaki, Cook Islands)

December 10, 2001  (Rarotonga, Cook Islands)

December 3, 2001: Part 2  (Bellingham, Washington)

December 3, 2001: Part 1  (Bellingham, Washington)

October 18, 2001: Part 3  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 18, 2001: Part 2  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 18, 2001: Part 1  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 6, 2001  (Fort Lincoln State Park, North Dakota)

September 30, 2001: Part 2  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

September 30, 2001: Part 1  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

September 15, 2001  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

August 30, 2001  (Webster, South Dakota)

August 18, 2001  (Watertown, South Dakota)

August 17, 2001  (Walnut Grove, Minnesota)

August 14, 2001  (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

August 10, 2001 (Battle Creek, Michigan)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 2)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 1)

August 6, 2001  (Manlius, New York)

July 23, 2001  (Middleton, Massachusetts)

July 22, 2001  (Boston, Massachusetts)

July 20, 2001  (Pomfret, Connecticut)

July 18, 2001  (Denton, Maryland)

July 16, 2001  (Cumberland, Virginia)

July 14, 2001  (Roanoke, Virginia)

July 9, 2001  (Sevierville, Tennessee)

July 8, 2001  (Fontana Lake, North Carolina)

July 5, 2001  (Manchester, Tennessee)

June 30, 2001  (Hohenwald, Tennessee)

June 29, 2001  (Corinth, Mississippi)

June 27, 2001  (Natchez, Mississippi)

June 24, 2001  (Austin, Texas)

June 20, 2001  (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)

June 18, 2001  (Clay Canyon, Utah)

June 15, 2001: Part 2  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 15, 2001: Part 1  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 14, 2001  (San Diego, California)

June 11, 2001  (San Jose, California)

June 2, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

May 19, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 30, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 19, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

April 5, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)