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Why I love the Olympics or how I spent my February break

By Hannah Vickers

Section: Sports

February 26, 2010

NORDIC COMBINED: Crossing the finish line during the cross country legacy event.
PHOTO BY Sarah Bloomberg/The Hoot

Ever since I was a little kid I have loved sports. I played over half a dozen at one point in time or another and have always adored watching them on TV. Every two years I get so excited to tune in for the Olympics. I get shamelessly into the hype over the latest American athlete, and cheer my country to no end. The last two Olympics, Beijing and Vancouver, have been different.

I was studying abroad in Australia during the 2008 games and had to settle for watching men’s field hockey (because the Aussies were playing) rather than some of the Michael Phelps finals. After that heartbreak, I was even more excited to catch the Vancouver Olympics from my living room in New Jersey and my dorm room at Brandeis.

This summer, though, that whole plan changed. I got an e-mail from the National Hockey League in July informing me of a once in a lifetime offer: ticket packages to the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games. Not only could I get tickets for a slew of events during our February break, but it included a hotel stay at a gorgeous place in downtown Vancouver and bus transportation to all events (for the oh-so tiny amount of $5,000). After small amounts of yelling at the idea of being able to see these games in person and completely ignoring the absurdity of the price, I called my best friend in Minnesota to see if she was in.

“Do you have five or six thousand dollars?” I asked her.

“Uh, I might have five of six…” Sarah said a bit shocked.

After I explained what it was for she laughed at me and suggested the most obvious thing ever: If they’re trying to get suckers to buy these over priced plans, why don’t we just look for individual game tickets and stay with her family friends for free? They live right next to the Olympic village. Needless to say, this was a much better plan.

We ordered tickets to two hockey games, Russia vs. Latvia and Finland vs. Germany, and booked our flights.

We could not believe that tickets for these games were the same price as Bruins seats. Shouldn’t we be getting ripped off more than this? Still, we had our seats on the lower level of the arena, just 20 rows and 8 rows respectively from the ice.

Over the next few months my excitement faded a bit as school work and grad school applications ruled my life. It wasn’t until Christmas time that the reality of going to the Olympics began to set in again. After scoring some seats for the women’s snowboarding half pipe, we were all set for a week of adventure.

Sarah’s parents and younger sister joined us for the first few days up in Vancouver. Even once we landed and saw the Olympic rings from the train and the huge venues looming right outsides our window it still did not seem like this could be happening.

It was not until we went out into the city the next day that everything set in. The streets of Vancouver were packed with people and almost every store had something in the window to show they supported Canada. Maple Leaf flags hung from balconies at apartments complexes all over town. While there were a lot of Canadians, it was everyone else I was paying attention to. I have never seen a place where so many different countries could come together. We overheard a dozen different languages in the first hour of our adventures. People walked around with Australian, Chinese, and Swedish flags as capes to show their pride.

Our first Olympic event ended up being the men’s Nordic combined on Valentine’s Day. The family we stayed with gave us the tickets for free, so off we went at 7 a.m. to Whistler to catch the action. We were probably the only people at the ski jumping portion or the cross country segment who did not bring a flag. Some people even had flags for countries that were not participating, but they still wanted to show their pride in their nation. We managed to get spots right along the fence 250 meters from the cross country finish line. One gentleman had brought an American flag, a Swiss flag, and a Canadian flag with him to represent his three citizenships and the three countries he has lived in. Again I was struck by how unique the Olympics are. When else would you have the chance to wave three flags at once?

After a few more days of exploring the city, experiencing all the pavilions where we could grab freebies, and spending far too much time and money at the Hudson Bay Company store buying official merchandise, we went to the Russia/Latvia hockey game. To say the Russians had a bit of a presence is an understatement. It seemed like nearly everyone in the arena was wearing red and white or sporting the new Sochi 2014 jackets to advertise the next winter games. Still, despite their support for one team, most people cheered for both squads and were excited whenever either one made a goal.

I was honestly blown away by how everything was organized the entire week. Despite the British griping over this being the worst Olympic games ever (see The Guardian for the piece) things were running as smoothly as I could have imagined. With millions pouring in from around the globe I was amazed that more things did not go wrong. The planning committee could not have known global warming would take away the snow from Cypress mountain, the venue for the snowboarding events. At the end of the day playing the hockey games in the Canucks NHL arena instead of an Olympic sized rink is not the end of the world. The two things I personally witnessed that should have been handled differently were the Olympic Cauldron and an incident at the women’s half pipe.

At every Olympic games, there is a Cauldron that burns outside from the Opening to Closing Ceremonies. In Vancouver the Cauldron was located right next to the newly built convention center right on the bay. When we went to try to get photos, though, we were a bit disappointed. Standing between us and our picture was a massive chain link fence, most of which was covered with Vancouver 2010 themed netting. Swarms of people pushed ahead to try to sneak their camera lenses through holes in the fence, but it did not do much good. The Olympic officials claimed these were safety and security precautions. Once objections were raised, though, the fence was moved, the netting taken down, and a viewing platform set up on the roof of a one story building right next to the flame. They cut out a large strip of the fencing so everyone could easily get their photo. I was pretty impressed with how quickly they solved the problem (overnight) and very happy with the results.

The half pipe event took place at Cypress Mountain, just 30 minutes outside the city. The stands were apparently the tallest ever constructed at an Olympics which probably explains the nearly 300 steps spectators had to walk up to get to their seats. After getting more than a little winded we settled in for what promised to be an incredible experience. What we were not bargaining for was the serious injury that took place between the qualifying and semi-final round. Most people in the stands were just chatting, killing time, while snowboarders made their way down the pipe on practice runs. No one was paying much attention when suddenly we saw a girl wipe out – landing on her back after missing a trick and slamming her head into the snow. She lay there for a moment with her arm raised before she passed out.

It took the coaches at the bottom nearly 20 seconds to notice the accident before the raced to her side. As she was being strapped to a board and taken to receive medical treatment, the announcers at the venue did not even acknowledge what had happened. They continued talking to each other and blatantly ignored the fact a competitor was seriously injured. They did not even give the audience her name.

It was not until after the first run of the finals that we realized it was Queralt Castellet, the Spanish boarder who had qualified third, who had fallen. Her score was listed as DNS – Did Not Start – while the other 11 women had numbers next to their names. We could not believe the officials had not made some kind of announcement regarding her condition to the stands. I can understand not wanting to alarm fans, but it was so odd to just ignore that it ever happened. Obviously she crashed, everyone saw it. I felt it was almost disrespectful to Catellet to not at least say something.

Despite that set back, the half pipe was still a pretty phenomenal event. Right before the first run of the finals a woman came up the stairs carrying a two-foot tall kangaroo stuffed animal with boxing gloves – the unofficial official symbol of Australian sports. After shamelessly taking a photo with her, she sat with us to watch “her girl” Torah Bright take her first run. Bright, an Australian favored to medal, fell before the end, earning low marks.

The Aussie next to us was unfazed, explaining that “Torah recovers from that all the time, just puts more pressure on her for the second run.” It was at that point we learned that the woman we were talking to was actually the physical therapist for the Australian team. After comparing a few notes on her home country, she went down to the coaches area to watch the second runs. Bright had a perfect run and earned the gold medal.

The whole week we met the most random, nice people. Everyone wanted to talk to everyone else, to talk about where they were from and what events they were seeing. Some crazy Canadians were even boasting in the bars about spending nearly four thousand dollars a ticket to go to the USA vs. Canada men’s hockey game Sunday night. I certainly did not see as many events that week as I would have if I had been sitting in front of my TV, but what I got to experience meant so much more. That was a week when you cheered for your country but you supported the world. We came together to be part of something larger than ourselves and we have got the key chains, mugs, sweatshirts, mittens, hats, scarves, and memories to show for it.

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