A week after L&C’s Conference Championship and the best racing of the season, I travelled to Vancouver, B.C. with my wife and two friends to see winter sports on their greatest stage. We got to town in time to see the flame and explore downtown before watching Olympics on our hotel TV and turning in early for our big day the following morning.
Our Olympics day started with a 5:45am alarm. As a swim coach, I nailed this part. I had one slice of leftover pizza and one piece of homemade banana bread before we drove fifteen minutes to a makeshift bus depot. Many friendly folk in bright blue winter jackets directed us. There was free coffee and hot chocolate and my friend Chris and I each went for the chocolate. One young woman appeared to have the sole responsibility of smiling, holding a can of whipped cream upside down, and asking if you'd like some on your chocolate. I would like some, thank you.
Everyone is so friendly. The staff, the tourists, the volunteers. It's The Olympics... We boarded a charter bus for a two-hour drive to Whistler. Hundreds of buses were making this trip, all with the Vancouver 2010 logo and four Olympic critters in decal form on the sides. One critter is the Sasquatch. Another we learned was a rare, endangered Vancouver Island marmot and this made sense.
This left the one we had come to call "Skunk Kitten" and another that had a bear face and bird wings. We had no clever name for him. While waiting in the short line for the bus, my wife asked a young woman in the snazzy parka that screamed “I’m a volunteer” what the animals were. She explained that the hard-to-identify ones were actually native spirit-animals. Problem solved! Skunk Kitten was actually one creature on land and a whale in the water. Skunk Kitten is black and white and the thing we took for a tuft of black hair on her head did look just like an Orca’s dorsal fin. And the learning continued…
Our first event was the ski jump. Gigantic hill with people flying through the air, just like on TV. Or more like a gliding, controlled fall, I guess. This was actually the men’s Nordic combined, in which Team USA went on to win the silver medal.
From here we hustled about a kilometer through the forest to see the Women’s 4x6km Biathlon Relay. Skiing with guns and target shooting. In a relay. Amazing. I think the most impressive thing about the Olympics was the international energy. So many patriotic Swiss, Russians, Norwegians, Germans, Canadians, etc.
Big excitement! My wife had done some internet surfing so we’d have a clue about biathlon. After the event as we were leaving, she pointed and said, “That’s Sarah Studebaker!” We met Sarah and she signed our tickets and took photos with us. At one point she said, “I have fans!” This speaks to the anonymity an American professional winter biathlete maintains, as compared to some other nations.
Later that same day, back in Vancouver, we took in women’s curling. Simply fascinating. It was also striking how much more focus curling has globally than in the U.S. Crudely put, I would describe curling as shuffleboard on ice. In reality, it was pandemonium with four separate matches happening all at once, the banners waving, the Swiss singing and ringing cowbells on big leather belts, the Japanese chanting in unison, the Canadians going ballistic each time their country’s stone smacked another stone out of the circle, and the Americans looking around trying to figure the whole thing out. Glorious.