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March 1, 2010

Olympics Retrospective

It has finally reached the end.  No more massive crowds singing O Canada or any other national anthem.  No more hordes of police making sure that the crowd is well-behaved.  No more massive groups of international tourists here to see their team or their athletes take away the Gold Medal, the Silver Medal, the Bronze, or just compete in that sense of sporting camaraderie.  Tour buses wait outside hotels to ferry masses of people to the airport as they finally take their leave of our wonderful city.

Yes, the Olympics are over.  Vancouver is quiet this morning, perhaps recovering from the mass hysterical hangover that came as a result of Canada's huge 3-2 win over the United States in Men's Hockey.  Seventeen days of the biggest party this city has ever seen.  Of patriotic fervor that I wasn't sure Canadians possessed any longer (at least not in any big group).  Of welcoming the people of the world and saying "here we are, let's have some fun."

As citizens of Vancouver, we had front row seats for it all.  We had to fight the crowds, were able to engage in the revelry, and had the obligation to make the tourists' trips to the city the best time they could ever think of having.

Was it worth it?

I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

I'm not going to get into the political or societal issues that Vancouver (and BC in general) has to deal with, both when the Games were awarded to us as well as now that they are over.  Arguments will ensue about the cost of the Games, whether they will eventually pay off and whether the money could have been spent elsewhere.  I'm not going to get into that.

What I will say is that, as an experience, this couldn't be beat.

Vancouver has a reputation as a "no-fun" city.  The idiot Rick Reilly, from ESPN, even wrote a couple of articles making fun of Canada, and Vancouver specifically.  So to see the massive throngs of people partying away on Granville and Robson street (Robson was closed for the Olympics, and the part of Granville that was closed is always that way except for taxis) was unreal.

We managed to get to four hockey games (Russia-Latvia, Russia-Slovakia, Germany-Belarus, Sweden-Finland), so we were able to experience this all first-hand for at least four days.  Neither one of us are big fans of crowds, avoiding them if we can.  We even go to lunch at odd times so that we don't hit the lunch rush!  We like our open spaces, a little bit of solitude and all of that.

So to experience the Olympic party that Vancouver was putting on was quite the event for us.  It was stressful, but it was also a lot of fun.  We're not used to having to make our way through crowds of people just stopped on the street or the sidewalk.  Yes, some elbows are occasionally necessary to get through, but I'm not sure they would have even helped on some of these nights.

I commented on my post about the Sweden-Finland game that Sunday night the crowd seemed a bit more sparse and subdued, and was wondering whether the city was already getting partied out.  Was it capable of putting on a 2-week party without crashing and burning, or fizzling out like a wet firecracker?

I needn't have worried.  Monday they were back, almost as much as the week before.  We didn't go out and experience this crowd, but we saw a lot of pictures and reporting about it.  Other than going to work, we pretty much stayed home.  Four nights of crowds were enough for us.

But we were glued to the TV, watching Canada take the record for most Gold Medals won by a host country.  And then, on the last day, they took that hockey Gold Medal and make Canada the country to win the most Golds in any Winter Olympics, ever.  We didn't get that many Bronze and Silvers, thus only taking third overall, but Canada will always have that.  Who knew that "Own the Podium" meant "Own the Gold?"

The national spirit of Canada really shone through during these Olympics, more than I have ever seen before.  Vancouver and Whistler were putting them on, but the entire country seemed to take pride in them.  We were showcasing our home to the world, and we wanted to put our best foot forward.  I've never seen so many Canadian flags flying at any one time.  The number of people wandering around downtown with Canada flags painted on their faces was unreal.  Getting high-fived by strangers walking the other way as they exited the hockey game was a lot of fun.  People were dancing, impromptu games of street hockey broke out any many closed streets.

Pavilions sprang up all over Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, pavilions from all nationalities as well as various other institutions (such as BC Hydro's "Power Smart" pavilion).  These pavilions showed off many cultural aspects of the various countries, as well as being a great place to watch Olympic events on TV if you had to be among the crowd.  The German pavilion had to fly in more beer because they underestimated the demand.  Some of these pavilions were free, others had a cover charge of some sort.  All of them had long lines to get in.  In fact, most Olympic attractions had huge line-ups, such as the 6+ hour wait to ride the Zip Line or the hour or two wait to see the Olympic Cauldron.

There are kudos to be handed out all around the city today.  Most were mentioned by VANOC chairman John Furlong in the Closing Ceremonies, but I'd like to add my bit here.

First, to the Vancouver police.  They made themselves quite prominent, especially last weekend when Friday night got a little bit too rowdy.  Yet, from what I understand, they did not interfere often and were usually on the sidelines.  The ones we saw were business-like, but also enjoying themselves as much as it is possible to do while still being on the job of protecting people and property.  When protesters tried to disrupt things on the Saturday after the Games opened, the police refused the invitation to confront them violently, removing a lot of wind from their sails.  While I'm sure they were busy addressing those small incidents that always happen when you get this many people together in one place, there were no stories involving the police big enough to make headlines.  Generally speaking, from what I saw and have heard, they conducted themselves brilliantly and should be commended.  They kept order around the venues, and always were willing to answer questions if somebody had one.

Which leads to another segment that needs a lot of kudos, the Official Olympic Volunteers.  These "Smurfs" (because of their striking, but rather silly blue outfits) were also pervasive.  They were everywhere, helping people get to where they were going, to figure out where they were going in the first place, and generally keeping some order out of the chaos that was these Games.  I never saw one who didn't at least have a pleasant look on his/her face, even if they weren't smiling.  The ones outside Canada Hockey Place were doing their best to make the crowd experience outside the venue as bearable as possible, considering the massive security precautions that had to be taken.  Always helpful, always visible, and generally doing a stand-up job out there.  Kudos to all of you.  And sorry for all the Smurf jokes.

Finally, to the people of Vancouver, and to all of those who came to our city and enjoyed themselves for two weeks.  Again, there weren't any major stories of unrest or excessive belligerence.  There were problems on the first Friday (not counting the Opening Ceremony night), but it was only to the point of putting a bigger police presence out among the crowd.  When you get 100,000 people together in one downtown core, you're going to get some incidents.  But nothing was done that made the news, and that's a good thing.  People were generally well-behaved, always laughing and cheering, showing their spirit.  I'd like to think that those visitors to Vancouver got to see the best side of us.  When the protesters tried to get violent on that first Saturday, breaking windows and generally making a nuisance of themselves, the people of Vancouver, for the most part, rallied to the city's defense.  The people that these protesters thought they could get on their side, instead turned on them.

Now that the Games are over, I can definitely say that it was a lot of fun having them here.  I hope the sense of Canadian pride and patriotism carries over beyond the Games, to inhabit our spirit forever.

That being said, it's like running a successful dinner party where all of your friends and neighbours show up.  A lot of fun was had, laughs shared, some sorrows comforted.  But you know what?

It's getting kind of late and we really need to get to bed.  We enjoyed having you, and we hope you come back and see us again.

But could you kindly leave?  Thank you.


  1. Okay, I wouldn't say Canada had a HUGE win over the USA with the hockey game:) We did win the first game and the last was darn close. But congratulations. You are the champions. The Olympics were fun to watch and I'm sure even more fun to see up close and personal.

  2. I loved watching the bits that I could from a distance (via the magic of television, TiVo, and the internet), and am quite envious of your experience. Vancouver looks like a fantastic place.

    Now go get your rest. You all deserve it.

  3. Congratulations on Canada having performed so well. And it was so much fun read the reviews from someone who actually WAS there :)

  4. Dave, I think Vancouver & Canada should be proud of the job they did on these games. I only watched on TV but I thought the games went very well. The beauty of the area & the warmth of the people came across very well. Congrats.



  5. Wow, lots of love! Thank you so much.

    Barbara: I meant "huge" in the importance sense, not in the score. :)

    Generally: Vancouver is a wonderful place to live, despite my politics being almost 180 degrees from most people here. LOL It's a beautiful city and I love it. I'm very proud of how we did, despite a few problems.

    Lena, I hope Sochi in 2014 goes just as well! But with more snow. :)


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