Olympics: One year ago…

Watch this. It’s a video recap of the Vancouver Olympic Games by Stephen Brunt. (It’s also at the end of this post if you want to read my scribblings first.)

Last year was a whirlwind for me, to give a very brief sketch I finished up my first contract at a hagwon in Suwon, South Korea at the beginning of December 2009. I called home and talked to my parents and found out that there had been about 40 days straight of rain. I told them I loved them and promised to be home for Christmas and instead went to Vietnam and Cambodia for about three weeks. I arrived home on Dec. 23rd.

Once I realized I would be home for Christmas I further realized I had been offered a rare opportunity. The Winter Olympics were to be held in Vancouver starting in mid-February. I could have immediately attempted to secure another job abroad but instead I delayed that until post-Olympics. My next piece of good fortune was when my second cousin opted to go to Australia for a few months because he’s not a fan of crowds, he just happens to live on the South side of False Creek right near the Cambie Street bridge and he offered me his apartment free of charge while he was travelling.

Athletes Village as scene from my front door.

The Olympic Athlete’s Village just happened to be on the other side of the Cambie Street, I could see it from my front door. Alas, security was strong and no matter when I tried to sneak in to steal some US speed skates or Swedish curling stones, they caught me. What this meant was I would be living pretty much at the athletic heart of the Olympics.

Next up I volunteered. I’d hoped to work at the Athlete’s Village as that would have meant my commute would have been about 2 minutes but instead I was placed at UBC Thunderbird Arena which was hosting the women’s hockey tournament. My first day at Thunderbird Arena was facility orientation and motivation day. A charming, young Asian UBC co-ed sweetly asked me, “How did I find all the training?” I looked at her with a puzzled expression for a moment before replying, “this is my first day of training.” Then it was her turn to be confused.

A smattering of Olympic smurfs.

I quickly explained where I’d been and why this was my first Olympic experience outside of getting my Smurf uniform. When I first saw the soft blue uniforms I wasn’t overly impressed, but once the Olympics kicked off – those Smurf colours were ubiquitous to the events and people looked at us with pride and envy. Olympic souvenirs were everywhere throughout the city and the province and the country, but only people who gave their time received Smurf attire. People could always ask a Smurf for help and we always tried to provide it, in fact, one day I was out and about and forget I was wearing my Smurf jacket and 20 or 30 people stopped and asked me questions; from where were stores, events, the flame, to bus schedules. For two weeks wearing that blue made you someone important and someone reliable. And cool.

But back to the arena. I wish I could recall that Asian Co-ed’s name, but everyday you would meet new people and work with a new team. I was assigned to Team Quatchi, along with 30? 40? 50? other people and we would be divided up to provide different jobs on the day. One day I checked credentials at the media tent, another day checked tickets and helped with screening, the next shift I might be guarding access to the players dressing rooms, the next showing people to the seats and in one case helping them improve their seats.

I met people from around the world, volunteers came not just from across British Columbia but from across Canada, as well some West Coast Americans and even one lovely blonde lady from Sweden. And those just those that I met in my one venue. After seeing one proud American supporter for the third straight game I asked what her connection was, she was the mother of a US player. I traded pins with anyone who wanted them I didn’t collect them but anything with the Olympic rings were gold. A large Latvian coach looked at my pin collection took the one he wanted and gave me a Latvian Olympic Hockey pin in return. If I’d declined I suspect I might have been shipped to Riga for reeducation. Running the metal bleachers I got to spend time with Val the Dancing Smurf who was always smiling and laughing with spectators. I got to know Martin the boomcam operator, who was delighted when I emailed pics of him capturing the action with his swinging camera rig.

Watching events outside on the CTV Studios big screens. Granville and Robson.

Everywhere there were crowds and fans. After the first US/Canada Men’s hockey game, instead of their being fights and scuffles when Canada fell 5-3 to their American rivals some disappointed Canadian fans surrounded two flag waving, jersey wearing yanks and… sung “O Canada” at them very loudly.

People and line-ups were everywhere, but hospitality and a spirit of shared fun proved intoxicating and while the queues stretched around blocks people took the time to get to know each other and revel in the atmosphere. In many cases the crowds at venues were able to find their places more quickly then seeing the Olympic flame or spying the medals at the Canadian Mint or getting in some shopping at the Hudson’s Bay flagship store or zip-lining across Robson square. But it didn’t matter. The people; athletes, coaches, volunteers, supporters – made it what it was.

Crowds around the Olympic Cauldron to see the flame. (The flame is almost dead center of the shot.)

It was a celebration across the country but it was at its most fevered at Whistler and Vancouver.

There are a great deal more stories I could retell. And perhaps I will. But right now, a year (and two days) since the opening of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, and there were celebrations under sodden skies with good turnouts. A year ago, after an ugly first few days, Vancouver weather acted atypically and for the rest of the games the sun shone bright and warm as if even Nature agreed now was a time to showcase one of the most amazing of cities for all the world to share.

And share it they did.

There was a real magic cast over Vancouver last year for those 17 days. And being Canadian, we were only more than happy to immediately share that magic with the globe.

A video by Stephen Brunt recapping the games should be required viewing for all Canadians and anyone who wants a crash course on the Canadian National psyche.

Canadian are not Americans. We are proudly, distinctly Canadian. The 2010 Winter Olympics allowed anyone who cared to look just what it means to be a Canuck and why we are rightfully so proud and privileged to call home…
Canada.

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One thought on “Olympics: One year ago…

  1. Thank you for this nostalgic, reminiscent blog of one of the memory makers of our lives. And, reliving the memories makes it even sweeter. I plan to look through my several? pages of emails to find the sound erupting over False Creek……..I love that video clip.
    Take care, love you and all your special talents,
    Mom

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