Not-so-hard-working press: A spectating guide to the Winter Games
VANCOUVER, B.C. – A media credential is a golden ticket at the Olympics. Past Bob Costas’ green room, it gets you into just about everything.
In the first week of these Games alone, I had a prime seat for the opening ceremony, women’s moguls, men’s and women’s boardercross, pairs and men’s figure skating, women’s downhill, men’s super G, and women’s snowboard halfpipe. I interviewed gold medalists, watched heartbreak and triumph unfold up close, and even got some exfoliating advice from Johnny Weir.
Still, when you’re at one event at the Olympics, you can’t help but wonder what you’re missing elsewhere. There’s always something. Not a minute goes by without the ping of an e-mail recapping an event, announcing another U.S. medal won or a scheduled press conference. And at every press center, you’re always watching other events happening live miles away.
After two days of fighting for elbow room with the strange animals in the press corral up at Whistler, I made the decision to take a break from the mosh pit on Saturday and explore Vancouver. The idea was simple: Go to the venues I had yet to see in the host city, and enjoy the Olympic experience. No deadlines. No big story to chase. No rules.
Joining me on this venture was Mark “What’s Happening?” Bricklin, the Vail Daily’s irrepressible marketing guy and my roommate here in Vancouver. Mark is the perfect pal for a marathon spectating binge. He’s a sports fanatic (he’s been to eight Super Bowls and two NBA All-Star Games) and he’s always up for anything. Plus, he’s got more hideous Olympic jackets than the entire Russian team.
Here’s how the day went down:
6:45 a.m. – Sleep through alarm. Miss catching bus to Whistler for women’s super G.
9:00 a.m. – Blow off men’s curling. (Too early to start drinking.)
10:06 a.m. – Wake up to catch the women’s race on TV. Lindsey Vonn looks like she might win another gold, but then she gets bumped by Austria’s Andrea Fischbacher, then Tina Maze of Slovenia. Finally, the Austrian press can quit bitching about how their team – the Yankees of ski racing – are getting owned by Team USA.
11:32 a.m. – After putting in a load of wash at a Laundromat, we arrive at Denny’s to find the place packed. We found a similar scene at a White Spot, a popular Canadian chain, on our second morning in Vancouver. This sounds trite, but Canadians love their bacon.
1:52 p.m. – After finishing the laundry and dropping it off at the hotel, then fighting record crowds to get on the Canada Line on the SkyTrain and sitting through delays on the track, we FINALLY make it to the King Edward stop. The walk to the Vancouver Olympic Centre is resplendent. The sun is out, it’s near T-shirt weather, and the cherry blossoms are starting to bloom. I’m still trying to figure out how they picked this place for the Winter Olympics.
2:23 p.m. – Finally make it into the arena after walking around the entire thing looking for the press entrance. The crowd is mostly American, and the place is packed. Walking into an Olympic venue through the press entrance is a strange experience. You enter without any line, then you walk into a packed house and wonder, “Where’d all these people come from?”
2:24 p.m. – Begin to wonder how curling was ever chosen to be an Olympic sport. What’s next? Lawn darts at the summer games? Croquet? This looks about as athletically challenging as street bowling. And yet the gold medals they hand out for this are the same ones they hand out for running a downhill at 70 mph.
2:25 p.m. – Get my first $7 beer. Since I feel like I’m in a pool hall, I figure I might as well be drinking.
2:40 p.m. – U.S. women are locked in a tight match with Great Britain. One thing about curling: Some of the players are much more attractive than I expected. Although, the outfits aren’t helping the cause that this sport deserves to be taken seriously. The team from Denmark looks like it’s wearing Goth school girl outfits, complete with the black tights and the short skirts.
3:13 p.m. – Rabid U.S. crowd begins chants of “USA! USA!” after a nice delivery. It’s surprising how fired up the American fan base is, since our women’s curling team is nothing but average. The U.S. came into the game with a record of 1-3.
3:33 p.m. – Further proof that curling is suspect as a sport? I learn that one of the players on the ice is pregnant. Enough said.
4:17 p.m. – Pit stop at Tim Horton’s for some Timbits (Canadian for doughnut holes). Mark and I are flummoxed how Canadians are so tall and slim, even though their favorite restaurant is a doughnut shop, and every meal we’ve had in Canada is portioned, seemingly, for Sasquatch.
4:21 p.m. – Nickelback comes over the speakers on the radio. This is the most Canadian I’ve ever felt.
5:08 p.m. – After a beautiful walk along the water to the Richmond Olympic Oval, replete with interesting modern sculptures and the setting sun casting warm colors over the water, we arrive at the oval and only have to ask three people where the press entrance is.
5:11 p.m. – Speed skating has marching bands! Who knew? The oval is packed with Dutch fans, all singing and swaying along to this crazy pep band outfitted in Netherlands colors. Orange is everywhere. One of the local reporters on press row tells me the Dutch fans travel all over the world for speed skating, and that it’s second only to soccer for them. This is what’s so great about the Olympics. You learn something new every 15 minutes. China obviously kills it in Ping-Pong, the Bulgarians are prized weightlifters, and now you know: the Dutch love them some long track speed skating.
5:23 p.m. – It’s hard to appreciate how fast these guys are going on skates until you see this in the flesh. Dudes. Are. Humming.
5:35 p.m. – Pro-Canada crowd goes berserk for skater Denny Morrison. He eventually winds up ninth. So much for that whole Own the Podium thing, Canada.
5:38 p.m. – Count Dracula is the official starter of speed skating. Before each race, there’s this weird displaced Soviet Bloc sounding voice that says: “Go to the start.” Then, when everyone is in place, the voice says, “Reaaaaady?” Then the gun goes off. Really strange.
5:45 p.m. – E-mail pings me on my iPhone letting me know U.S. women have come back to down Great Britain in extra ends in curling. Whatever that means. Either way, take that you saucy Brits. Hizzahhh!
5:46 p.m. – Mark Tuitart of the Netherlands crosses the finish line with the fastest time. The Dutch fans are going absolutely bananas.
5:53 p.m. – Heeeeeeeere’s Shani! The moment everyone has been waiting for: The United States’ Shani Davis skating next to Canada’s Lucas Makowsky in the night’s 19th and final pair. Shani, eying a second gold medal at these Olympics, looks completely focused at the start. And they’re off! Shani is 0.18 seconds off the pace after the first turn, and the Dutch crowd is going wild … still 0.18 off at the next interval … Shani’s grinding, giving it all, his face contorted, but now he’s 0.34 seconds off the pace with two turns to go … final 200 meters … and he finishes 0.53 seconds off the pace. Tuitart wins in 1:45.57.
5:54 p.m. – National holiday announced in the Netherlands.
5:59 p.m. – A Dutch reporter on press row is actually clapping along to the band playing while the Dutch fans sing along to the likes of “Gloria” and most of Queen’s catalog. So much for “objective” press. This might be the happiest moment in the Netherlands since Amsterdam decriminalized pot back in 1975. When I ask the Dutch reporter what the name of the pep band is, she tells me it’s Kleintje Pils. Translation: Small Pilsner.
6:05 p.m. – Say hi to super-talented L.A. Time sports columnist Bill Plaschke while leaving press row. Plaschke seems like a real nice guy. Asks me where I’m from, and thanks me when I tell him about one of his stories I loved. Not like bumping into serial whiner Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post on Thursday. When I asked “Kiz” where Woody Paige was, he looked at me like I’d just peed in his laptop bag. “I don’t have a clue where Woody is,” Kiszla said. “They sent the A Team to this.”
6:30-8:59 p.m. – Mark B. has to finish his column, so we head back to the Main Press Center (MPC) for a bit. I watch Apolo Anton Ohno win his record seventh Winter Games medal in short track speed skating while Mark types away. Pretty funny to see how serious-minded a journalist Mark has turned into in just a week, considering before the Olympics he wanted to roll out an ad campaign using my mug shot as the head of the Olympic mascot.
9:21 p.m. – After being the only two journalists in the last bus leaving to Canada Hockey Place we walk right into a packed arena in the middle of a Belarus charge on Germany’s goal. The large pro-Belarus crowd goes nuts when a Belarus player scores. Again, the same thing: “Where were all these people?” And talk about a beautiful venue. Great sight lines, comfy seats, and press row is close enough to the ice to hear the thwack of the puck and the slicing of the skates on ice. The atmosphere feels like a European soccer match. Flags are everywhere, and there’s a bunch of shirtless German fans with painted yellow chests down on the glass.
9:37 p.m. – Pretty evenly matched teams. Germany is getting more shots on goal, but the Belarus goalie is snagging everything. I admit to Mark I’m surprised at how packed the arena is. Who knew that there were so many fans interested in Germany vs. Belarus hockey? He looks at me like I’m an idiot. “What did you think,” he says. “It’s Saturday night and it’s a hockey game. And we’re in Canada.” Point taken.
9:39 p.m. – It wouldn’t be a hockey game without the Kiss Cam! One couple ducks under a German flag to smooch. There’s a bunch of old couples, and some more-than-willing young couples. When the camera focuses in on a 30-something bald guy and his date, the two start twirling tongues. Ick. Then the camera swoops in on a Barbie doll blonde sitting next to some schmoe in a baseball cap. The two don’t even know each other, and the blonde is trying to wave off the camera and the guy is trying to hide beneath the brim of his cap. The crowd keeps urging the two on, and the camera won’t go away. Then the blonde, in desperation, starts to lean over toward the guy. She’s gonna do it! The guy is wussing out. Keeps looking the other way. Another lean, more cheering, and then … boom! Some guy flies in from off-screen to give the blonde a kiss she wasn’t expecting. Greatest Kiss Cam moment ever.
9:47 p.m. – Day-O! Day-O! The Belarus fans can’t get enough of this.
9:52 p.m. – MAKE SOME NOISE! MAKE SOME NOISE! And, just because this is the Olympics, and everything has to be translated into French: FAITES DU BRUIT! FAITES DU BRUIT!
9:58 p.m. – Bryan Adams’ voice rips through the PA system. Yep, there may be a guy on the Jumbotron wearing a red, yellow and black German mohawk, but we’re definitely still in Canada.
10:06 p.m. – Another Belarus goal. Mark and I decide it’s time to go.
10:30 p.m. – Back at the MPC, we decide to head upstairs to catch Ohno’s press conference. Mark has been going to pressers here nearly every night and giving me updates. I’m strangely curious to take in a press conference for something I’m not covering, so we go.
10:45 p.m.- No Ohno, but Plaschke’s here.
10:55 p.m. – Still, no Apolo, so Mark and I talk cars. This is one of Mark’s favorite subjects. His dad used to import the Yugo and Mark used to travel the globe going to car shows. Guy is a font of knowledge. But he’s still wearing that bad jacket.
11:15 p.m. -Apolo finally shows, and he’s in a good mood. Not at all boastful when talking about his record haul of medals and his obsession with what he called an “obscure” sport. Impressive all around.
12:10 a.m. – Mark’s hungry – again – so we head upstairs to the restaurant in the convention center that houses the MPC. Place is still full. There’s no sleep at the Olympics. Mark orders soup (his favorite thing) and sliders. I get a beer that costs $9. And that’s Canadian dollars. Total rip-off.
1:15 a.m. – Back at the hotel after another long day. We turn on the TV to catch the tail end of the U.S. curling match. A sweet victory indeed. I’m just glad to know we were a part of it.
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The Aspen High School girls soccer team fought off a couple of key injuries to finish in a 1-1 draw with visiting Roaring Fork on Thursday night on the AHS turf. Over in New Castle, Basalt girls soccer edged out Coal Ridge for a 1-0 win.