I have always dreamed of attending the Olympic Games in person. I haven’t yet managed it, probably because I am World Class when it comes to the “Cheapskating” competition. We have all read horror stories about the high costs of accommodation and how enterprising residents will move out of their homes and rent them for several thousand dollars a week. House swapping is an alternative. Vancouver and London each have hundreds of families that participate in home exchange. London is the hub of the British rail network and the Olympic Stadium being built at Stratford is next to a main line station. You could do a house exchange in much of the country and take the train for a day trip to the 2012 Olympic Games. You could watch live events on TV at pubs or in the comfort of your exchange home.
An account from our special correspondent at the Winter Games follows. Andy is an old friend of mine, he didn’t do a home exchange but he stayed in an apartment and had a great time. He’s inspired me to arrange a home exchange so we can attend the London Olympics in 2012.
My family and I are blessed with the wonderful opportunity of attending the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.
Some of us are here for the whole thing, from the Opening Ceremony to the Closing Ceremony. Others are coming and going.
I thought that I would share some impressions from our first Olympics..
Being here is very different than watching on TV. The experience is much richer and deeper. Seeing with your own eyes makes a big difference. There is no media filter and commentary (and no commercials). You hear the fans from many different countries cheering. The air is cold. You get a real feel for what the events are like.
The Opening Ceremony was a really fun, exhilarating experience. The crowd was exuberant, the show was spectacular and watching the athletes march in was great. There was a high level of audience participation — we were trained for an hour before the event. Each one of us had to put on a light blue poncho to allow for special effect lighting. We were each given a drum stick and a drum box, a flashlight and an electric candle and led by special audience coaches. We drummed and waved and helped with the show. My son Edward said afterwards that it was one of the best experiences of his life.
For the Alpine races, you sit or stand near the bottom of Whistler Creekside and watch the beginning of the race on a large screen and see the finish live. So far we have been to the Men’s Downhill and Men’s Super Combined (Downhill and Slalom), both of which were delayed several days by the weather. We saw Bode Miller win a gold in the Men’s Super Combined and a bronze in the Men’s Downhill (only 9/100 of a second behind the gold medalist). Almost every country has exuberant fans who dress up in their country’s colors, cheer and wave flags. It was unbelievably exciting when Bode won at the end of the Super Combined with the US fans cheering. However, it has to be said that the loudest fans at many Alpine events are the Swiss who carry real cow bells, large Swiss flags, and are dressed in the Swiss colors (and they had a lot to cheer for when they won the gold in the Downhill).
The Speed Skating events at Richmond Oval are particularly cool to watch. You can see the entire race from up close and it feels very different than on TV. We saw Shani Davis win his gold medal in the 1000 m Men’s Speed Skating (the US got the bronze as well). The excitement in the crowd was contagious. At Speed Skating events the most exuberant fans are from the Netherlands, dressed in bright orange, often with big orange wigs – they are hard to miss.
It seems that the events that are the most unpredictable with the most suspense can be the most fun. Short Track speed skating definitely fits the bill. You watch the qualifying, the semi finals and then the final, and lots of things can happen (spills, disqualifying touches etc.). We saw the 1000m Men’s final and witnessed Apollo Ohno winning the bronze. Of course, the Koreans were great as well.
Ice Hockey is the most important event to the Canadians. Their TV constantly runs ads claiming it as “their” sport and their men’s team publicly appeared on TV to say that the only medal worth winning is the gold. We of course are supporting the US team but there is pressure to be discreet… Being at the hockey stadium makes the games much more exciting and you can see the entire rink and action. We have seen the US team beat Norway and Switzerland (twice). All the games had a lot of drama but nothing compared to the game we saw on TV where the USA beat Canada 5 to 3. Supposedly two thirds of the entire population of Canada watched at least part of the game even thought it was a preliminary, non elimination, game. Vancouver was a ghost town during the game and they closed all the liquor stores so people would not get too rowdy. The Canadians were severely depressed by the loss but have since bounced back with their wins over Belarus and Russia.
Despite what the media is saying, the Canadians are doing a beautiful job of running the Olympics smoothly. The place is full of thousands of cheerful and helpful volunteers in blue jackets. Almost everything runs exactly on time without any glitches. The public transport is free for anyone with Olympic tickets.
Speaking of public transit, you can’t drive at these Olympics… There is NO public parking at any Olympic venue and personal cars are banned from the highway between Vancouver and Whistler from 6 am to 6 pm. No personal cars can drive on the road to Cypress Mountain. In addition many of the streets downtown are closed and other streets have special Olympic lanes for buses only. In any case, the public transit is very good which does make it easy to get around.
Canada is making a very big effort to get their people to support their Olympic team. The prime minister of Canada has personally urged everyone to “make a lot of noise” and not be the usual “self effacing” Canadians. The result is that the place is full of people wearing red and white, carrying Canadian flags and logos and cheering loudly.
Security is not obtrusive but there are police and “private security” officers everywhere. Believe it or not, Canada has brought in 20% of the entire country’s police force to protect the Olympic venues. Hundreds of towns in Canada sent their police to Vancouver. And rumor has it that there are 4,500 Canadian soldiers camped in the woods outside Vancouver (you never see them), and that the US has hundreds of agents and special forces stationed at the border in Blaine and Bellingham. To get into any Olympic venue you go through “airport” style security screening. On the other hand, the police seem friendly and I have not seen anyone being hassled.
By a stroke of luck, we are staying in North Vancouver 6 blocks from Lonsdale Quay. We rented a comfortable two bedroom apartment in North Vancouver from a company which rents apartments for short term “executive” stays. From Lonsdale Quay we can take a Seabus (basically a floating subway car) downtown (they run every 10 minutes until 2 am) or an Olympic Network Bus to Whistler or Cypress Mountains (there are only two stops for these buses so we are lucky to be near one). From downtown the SkyTrain (light rail) runs to most places we want to go. As an added bonus, Lonsdale Quay has a large indoor market reminiscent of the Pike Place Market in Seattle.
It is a privilege to be here and we are having a great time.