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February 18, 2010

My Olympics Experience - Russia/Latvia Hockey

Tuesday night was our first time out soaking up the Olympics atmosphere, as we had tickets to the Russia-Latvia hockey game at 9:00 Vancouver time.  We'd heard the noise, of course, since we already live downtown, but we hadn't got mixed up with the crowds to really experience it.  I have to admit that it was kind of fun, and this is coming from a cynical Vancouverite.  It is a once in a lifetime experience (ok, 5 times in a lifetime, since we have tickets to 5 games, but you know what I mean).

Here is our story:

(Note: You can click on each image to make it larger)

My first comment is that, while the streets of downtown Vancouver are busier than normal, they aren't too bad.  Most of the action seems to be centred on Robson and Granville streets, where the teeming hordes are massed doing all kinds of different things.  Pictured above is the Lunar Festival, to celebrate the Chinese New year (thanks to Vancity Buzz for that one) which opened just after the Opening Ceremonies.  There are other things going on too, and Robson street is completely closed (and so full of people that it's hard to get around).

It was just after 5:00, and the Official Olympic Website (yes, I'm going to keep that joke going) said that you really should get to your venue about 2 hours before it starts.  Thus, we didn't want to go to a sit-down restaurant that might make us late.  Thus, we had our dinner with us instead (not saying what it was).  However, we had a lot of time to kill, so what shall we do?

As we were walking past The Bay (the Official Something of the Olympics, I'm sure), where you can buy tons and tons and TONS of Official Canada Olympic Stuff (oh, and outside that area, you can also buy some other USA and Russian stuff too, plus probably most other countries too), we saw that the line wasn't that long.  You have to wait in line to get in, and they only allow a certain number of people in at any one time.  While it's annoying standing in line, once you're inside you see why they do this.  You wouldn't be able to move if they didn't do it that way.  We decided we'd like to get some Olympic stuff, so why not use our time here?  The line took longer than it seems like it should have, considering how short it was when we joined it, but we finally got in and bought some stuff (mittens, a shirt for me, etc).  My claustrophobia didn't kick in too hard, which is good (that's why I really have trouble with Ikea).  We made it out of there in one piece and headed off for a place to get a pop and eat our food.

We discovered upon getting to GM Place Canada Hockey Place that you couldn't just go to the gate your ticket said.  No, you have to go down below the Skytrain tracks, walk around the huge security perimeter (which is quite a fair distance from GM Place Canada Hockey Place as well) to get to the security check points.  These are much like airline security check points without the humiliation of having to remove your shoes.  You still have to empty your pockets and go through a metal detector.  Getting there at 7:00, the line-up at security was pretty short.  We thought "hey, this is actually pretty good!" and headed to where people were milling about waiting to get in.

That's when we discovered that they wouldn't be opening the gates until 8:00 pm.  Now, this is kind of understandable.  The Canada-Norway game was over just before 7:00, and I assume they had to do a quick clean-up job before letting us in for the next game.  But it was still *really* annoying.  Why suggest you get there 2 hours early when you can't even go anywhere for an hour?  Anyway, we were stuck in a mob of people, who were thankfully well-behaved, for an hour.  Standing up.  With a few Porta-Potties over by the side but that's it.  After walking around downtown Vancouver for 2 hours before this, my legs were getting pretty tired by this time.

Still, we made the most of it.  Thank God for mobile phones that can use the Internet!  I grumped on Twitter about this (sample tweet: "At the Rus-Latvia hockey game. Security check was quick but huge line to get in now. At least it's not raining."), also posted to Facebook.  The wife was texting her friend.  We were also just taking in the scenery and the crowds.  The air was quite festive, with Russian flags a couple of Latvian flags being waved around.  Some guy was having way too much with his horn (in fact, I tweeted that very thing) but overall it wasn't too bad.  A guy with a megaphone started walking around, and that was fun (the following is paraphrased):

"Just to let you know, the gates will open in 10 minutes"
*crowd grumbles*
*guy walks a little bit further*
"Did I say 10 minutes?  I meant 9 and a half minutes."
*a bit more grumbling*
*guy walks around a little bit more*
"I meant 9 minutes"

Then he was gone.  In what seemed like much more than 10 minutes, the following exchange (also paraphrased, since my memory is horrible) occurred:

Wife:  "It's been more than 10 minutes.  Where's that guy with the megaphone?"
Me: "Probably trampled to death by the crowd in back"

Finally, at 8:00, they let us through.  We went across the street, then up the long stairs to the first level of GM Place Canada Hockey Place, where some people got off, but the rest of us had to go up the next huge flight of stairs to get to our gate.  The wife summarized how we both felt.  "MOOOOOOOOOO!"  I was expecting them to have the brand ready for us at the gate.

(Blurry, but this is what was in front of us going up the stairs)

We finally got through the door.  Ah, civilization!!!!  It was so nice to finally be inside and heading for our seats.  I stopped at concessions and got a Coke (no Pepsi, since that's not the Official Pop of the Olympics, but that's also all you get at Canucks games too).  They don't give you a pop like they do for the Canucks games, though.  Instead, they have these eco-coolers (no CO2, less energy) that you have to grab the pop and then take it to the counter.  Not sure why exactly, but a bottle that costs maybe $2.00 in the store cost $4.50!  Talk about a captive audience!

So we finally got to our seats and were able to sit down.  Yay!  This was our view of the ice.  Not bad, eh?  These were the cheapest seats available, at $50 a piece.  Right behind the goal, but they were pretty good.

Until some idiot Calgary fans (one had an Iginla jersey on) sat in front of us, with their cowboy hats still on.  Good Lord, do you get out much?  They were annoying the whole game, but we were able to deal with them.  Not that we had an usher to actually come up and ask them to take their hats off or anything.

So we saw a pretty good game.  The Russian team is the favourite to win the Gold, I think, and they basically had their way with Latvia, but the Latvians were trying hard and they did manage to score two goals in the third period.  It was fun to see, though I was beginning to overdose on "cute" by the end of the game.

See, there is no advertising inside the venue.  You know how ads are always splashed all over the boards at these games? Not here.  Just a 360 degree Vancouver Olympics 2010 banner on the wall instead.  And lots of cute graphics of the three mascots:

Yes, even during the intermissions, this is pretty much all we saw.  Lots of cute things involving these lovable characters.  A team scored a goal?  One of these guys showed up and celebrated.  I think I was suffering from a sugar rush by the end of the game.  However, it was nice to not see ads all the time.

Incidentally, it was really interesting to hear that everything was said in French first, and then English.  Where are we, Quebec?  I know Canada has two official languages, and it's understandable that they would have French at the Olympics to reflect that.  But to have it be the *first* language spoken?  I had to shake my head sometimes.  When the announcer said that there was one minute left in the period (first in French, then in English), by the time he was finished there was only 30 seconds left, I think.

There was a really nice crowd, with a huge number of Russian and Latvian fans in evidence.  We were wearing our Team Canada stuff, and there were a few of those too, but Russian flags were everywhere.  It was really cool to see.  Also, the fans seemed to be better-behaved than the Canucks fans can be at times. Maybe the fact that so many were from out of the area?  Also, that may be why they let us keep the caps on our pop bottle.  They didn't appear to be afraid that somebody would use a full bottle of pop as a missile.

After the game, it actually wasn't too bad getting out. We normally wait a while before leaving, to let the rush of people go ahead of us.  This time, we left fairly quickly (still waited a bit, but not long) and it was actually civilized.  The good thing, as we headed up Dunsmuir St, was that at least half of the people headed to the Skytrain station, so our walk home wasn't actually too crowded.  We walked down Granville street a little bit and saw more teeming hordes.  I'm wondering if the party ever stopped.

All in all, it was a great experience, despite my Twitter grumbling.  We're making some adjustments for tonight's game.  We're not going to get there until almost 8:00 so that we don't have to wait in the mob.  It's not like somebody can take our seats.  Even if the line-up at Security is long, at least we're in a line that's steadily moving instead of waiting in a huge group of people and not going anywhere.

This is the only time this is happening, so we're going to enjoy it.


  1. I'm glad you guys had a great time. It must be pretty cool to see the Olympics first hand.

  2. I am SO IN LOVE with those red mittens!!!

    What an interesting post - so many details. I felt like I was there... I could almost hear the French and then the English (okay, actually, I have heard that on my television, too; not sure why they have the French first, but I loved hearing it because I studied friend for 4 1/2 years and am always still thrilled when I can understand something - hearing it in English first would be cheating for me!)

    It sounds like you have further Olympics fun ahead of you. I'm envious! I haven't even managed to watch much on television; too busy with the kids this week.

    Totally Unrelated (almost) - I've never found it humiliating to take my shoes off at the airport, just kind of putzy. If they had me reveal my clown white, middle-aged, I-Have-Had-Two-Babies belly, THAT would be humiliating. (Oh, I'm am laughing thinking of it...)

  3. I so envy you. With 11 hours of time differentce games are aired either in the night or in the morning when I am in the office. Today the whole office was following online TEXT translation of Russia - Slovakia and you can actually imagine what it feels like when your team loses. Though many out there say that Russia is one of favorite, we were not that sure today when they lost it :(

    Anyways, great to see the insider's review. I hope I will be able to do the same next winter Olympics when they come to us :D

  4. Karen: Yeah, it is pretty cool to have this opportunity. The run-up to it was really bad, and we won't know until a while afterwards whether it was good for the city or not, but in the here and now, Vancouver is one big party.

    Sara: Those red mittens are cool, aren't they? :) Glad you're enjoying the write-up. I hope to have last night's game up today or tonight. Maybe tomorrow morning at the latest.

    As for the belly-humiliation, I neglected to mention the security guy and his wand flirting with my wife. :P

    Lena: Sorry Russia lost last night, but it was a great game to watch! As I said above, I'll have the write-up on this game up in the next day or so. That was our last Russia game. The next two are Germany-Belorus and Sweden-Finland.

    Hope you get to go to some games in 2014! How close are you to that city?

  5. Not really that close, the Olympics city is way in the south of Russia and I am kinda closer to Moscow. Guess around 3-4 hours flight from here.

    I could not watch the game as I said already, read your review of it though. And it's okay that you rooted for Slovakia :D

    Now I guess we are supposed to watch Russia - Canada (hope they beat Germans now) in 1/4 and then may the best team win :)

  6. If Canada can't beat the Germans, you'll be able to hear the collective wail of despair as the entire country rends its garments and falls into the pit of despair all the way over in Russia. :)

    Looking forward to that game!


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