Sunday, February 28, 2010

We're On TV...Don't Blink or You'll Miss It

I've spent a quiet Sunday afternoon watching the gold medal hockey game and we were just sitting down to watch the closing ceremonies. Of course, NBC's coverage is still terrible. It's already nearly 8:30pm. The closing ceremonies have actually been over for several hours but have been delayed here on the west coast so that they can be aired in prime time. What a crock.

There was one upside from the coverage. NBC aired some gold medal highlights, one of which was the Ladies' Figure Skating Free Skate program. We were there that night, so we didn't see it on TV and our DVR was so filled that by the time we had a chance to watch it, it was no longer there.
As we watched the coverage of Kim Yu-Na, the camera cut to a shot taken way up in the stands, and there was none other than Clarice holding one end of our American flag.

Then, while watching the coverage of the final two runs of the 4-man bobsled, I managed to spot myself and Genny's brother Mike standing at the finish line.

That's Mike with his head turned, wearing a blue Team USA cap and my right arm reaching out with my small digital camera. I'm wearing my blue USA jacket with a red stripe down the arm, so it was easy for me to spot myself.

Our 7th Day - 4-man Bobsled at Whistler

Today is our last day at the 2010 Winter Olympics, but what a day. We left Bellingham around 8am and drove up to Whistler, BC to watch the final two heats of the 4-man bobsled. Once we confirmed that Mike and Kate were going to be able to join us for the bobsled, we sold the tickets I had originally bought to take the bus from BCIT up to Whistler and instead bought a driving pass for the Sea to Sky Highway and drove to Whistler.

After waiting in a long line to get through security and into the Whistler Sliding Center, we watched the first sleds take to the course for heat 3. The first sled on track was USA 1, driven by Steve Holcomb. Steve's family was out in force to cheer him on.

He had a successful third run and remained in first place. I noted that the steel columns supporting the roof over the finish line were now covered with pads after the death of the Georgian luger prior to the start of the games. Last year during the World Cup events, and prior to the start of the Olympics, these columns were exposed.

The thirteenth sled down the course was USA 2, driven by Mike Kohn.

By the time Mike finished, we had a ring side seat at the finish hut, directly in front of Mike's parents. I couldn't help but remark to them on the similarity of our last names.

We watched a few more sleds come to a stop in the finish hut. I had a chance to meet a number of these athletes during last year's World Cup event at Whistler, so I already knew how big these guys are. Many of them played football and college. They're all built like linebackers.

Our original plan had been to get to Whistler early enough to climb to the top of the track so that we could watch the first sleds start the third heat and then work our way down toward the bottom during the fourth and final heat. Since that didn't happen, we instead started working our way up the course during the later stages of heat three, stopping as each sled came down the track. Here the Serian sled flies by.

The 4-man bobsled finals drew the largest crowd ever to attend a sliding event, including this guy who was already prepared for Sunday's gold medal hocket match between Team USA and Canada.

I came prepared to cheer on the USA sleds. Here I pose for a rare photo opp at turn 1 just below the start during the lull between heats 3 and 4.

After watching several sleds start the fourth and final heat, we quickly made our way down toward the bottom of the course, again stopping to watch each sled, including one of the Latvian sleds.

The Whistler Sliding Center is the fastest track in the world, with 4-man bobsleds reaching nearly 100mph. Capuring these vehicles is quite an accomplishment, so I am no doubt incrediby happy with some of my photos, such as this one of one of the Canadian sleds.

With just three sleds left, the crowd watched anxiously as the Canada 1 sled rocketed into second place, only to be surpassed by the Germany 1 sled by .01 second.

Then we waited for the USA 1 sled of Steve Holcomb.

Being able to move around the course, you get all sorts of vantage points. Although one could again argue that you can see the bobsled better on TV, since at any given spot along the track, you only see the sled rocket past for a split second. But unlike almost any other event, spectators can get incredibly close to the track. You just can't experience the speed of a bobsled from the safety of your living room.

Once all 21 sleds had completed the fourth run, it was USA 1 sled of Steve Holcomb in first place, continuing to maintain the .4 second margin he had built in his early runs. Germany finished second and Canada took the bronze, just .01 seconds behind Germany.

Genny, Kate, Mike and I had a great time. When the event was over, we joined the huge crowd walking back down below the Wizard chair on Blackcomb and made our way back to Whistler Village. We got into the line for standby tickets for the Medal Ceremony, but in spite of getting very close to the entrance, we did not manage to get inside before Holcomb and the rest of the USA team were awarded their gold medals. Standing outside the medals plaza, we flew our own American flag and sang the Star Spangled Banner.

Then we made our way to the Irish Pub in Whistler Village and hoisted a few before getting back into the car and driving back to Bellingham.

We got home just before 1am, having had an incredible time at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. I considered driving up to Vancouver on Sunday morning and watching the USA/Canada gold medal hockey game in a bar and then trying to get tickets to the closing ceremony. But after four straight days at the games, I was exhausted. So I'll watch the hockey game and closing ceremony at home.

There are even more photos on my Flickr site.

Friday, February 26, 2010

On the Streets of Vancouver on Friday Night

Today we were back in Vancouver to attend short track speed skating at the Pacific Coliseum. Before the event, we took the Skytrain into downtown Vancouver to eat lunch at a great Indian restaurant and to do some shopping.

Canadian spirit is everywhere. Here a huge Canadian flag is reflected on the front of the Toronto Dominion Tower.

After tonight's short track speed skating, we took the Skytrain into downtown Vancouver and hung out on Robson Street. The Canadian men's hockey team had just beaten Slovakia in a semi-final game, and the crowds on Robson street were celebrating.

We also wandered over so that Kate and Mike could see the Olympic Flame. The barrier has been moved closer and larger gaps and Plexiglas have been added to the chain link fence, making the barrier a bit less obtrusive, but it's still a shame that the view of the flame has to be obscured in such a draconian fashion.

I hope these young Canadian girls didn't use Sharpie markers to create those tattoos, or they may not be quite so temporary. Such is the enthusiasm of our Canadian hosts at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games.

The International Broadcast Center, housed in the new Vancouver Convention Center, is a beautiful sight, particularly at night, with the Olympic Rings glowing in the background.

This video captures a bit of the enthusiasm in downtown Vancouver. Back on Robson Street, we watch the crowd as we wait for our crepes at a wonderful little restaurant that has become a popular night spot.

There are more photos on my Flickr site.

Our Sixth Olympic Day - Short Track Speed Skating

Today brought us to another one of those events that we really looked forward to, the finals of the short track speed skating.

Joining us for this event was my sister Lori and my brother-in-law Mike and his wife Kate. Here they posed with one of the Royal Canadian Mounted Policemen who would later participate in the Medal Ceremony.

Once up in the stands, Kate and Mike used one of the signs I had made to help us cheer on the USA speed skaters.

Of course, one of the stars we had come to see compete was Apolo Ono. He competed twice tonight, in the Mens' 500 meter and then again in the Mens' 5000 meter relay.

Also competing was Katherine Reutter, who made it into the finals of the Ladies' 1000 meter short track event. She did very well in her semi-final and quarter-final heats.

Here Katherine makes a move to the front in her quarter-final heat.

Anyone who says that you can experience an event like this better on television has obviously never been to a short track speed skating event. I am now absolutely in love with this sport. Instead of competing against the clock as in long track speed skating, short track has 4 or 5 athletes on the ice at one time, with the two fastest in each heat continuing on to the next round. The action is intense, and you just can't experience the excitement from the confines of your couch.

Apolo Ono also advanced through his semi-final and quarter-final heats, although he had a bit of a tougher time, including a race in which he had to leap over two skaters who got tangled up and fell in front of him. He eventually made it to third place in the final, only to be disqualified for impeding a skater in his final heat.

Here's Ono in his quarter-final heat. You can see how fast moving and exciting this sport really is. I think the excitement comes across better in this crude video, shot on my pocket camera, than in the overly-packaged television coverage on NBC.

In the finals of the Ladies' 1000 meter, Katherine Reutter fought her way to the front.

Reutter ended up in second place, winning the silver medal in the Ladies' 1000 meter short track speed skating event.

The final event of the evening was the Mens' 5000 meter relay. This was by far the wildest thing I ahve ever seen, with four skaters from each team on the ice at the same time. Over the course of 45 laps, they switch off, with the next skater entering the ice ahead of the current skater, who then pushes them forward.

Canada took the gold medal, followed by Korea in second place and the USA team of JR Celski, Travis Jayner, Jordan Malone, and Apolo Ono capturing the bronze.

Here's a chunk of the race, as well as the medals ceremony. It was an incredible display.

We stayed for the medal ceremony and then took the Skytrain back into downtown Vancouver.

There are even more photos on my Flickr site.

Our Fifth Day - Women's Figure Skating Long Program

Today was one of the BIG events. We drove up to Vancouver for the Ladies Free Skate, the final program in the women's figure skating competition. This is one of the premier events at the Winter Olympics and it was even more special since today was Genny's birthday.

We posed for a photo outside the Pacific Coliseum before heading inside to find our seats.

We were fairly high up, but with a great view of everything.

My sister Lori came along with Clarice, Genny, and me. This is one event that is definitely better in person. You might see it closer on TV, but you don't see it all unless you're there. What a thrill.

I still can't believe that we actually managed to get tickets to this event. It was an incredible experience to get to see all 24 competitors. On television you only get to see the top 4 or 5.

Of course, we were rooting for Rachael Flatt, who went into the free program in 5th place. She skated first in the final group of 6 women. Here she is in the kiss and cry booth after her performance.

Of course, the sentimental favorite was Canada's Joannie Rochette, who got a standing ovation when she came out onto the ice, and then again at the end of her program.

But there was no question that Kim Yu-Na from Korea had won the competition. We had been transfixed watching her short program on TV two nights ago. Her long skate was incredible.

After waiting in the kiss and cry booth, Kim Yu-Na scored an incredible 150.06 in the long program for a total of 228.56, more than 20 points ahead of Asada Moa from Japan in second place and Joannie Rochette in third. Mirai Nagasu, who had been in 6th place after her short program, finished in 4th, with a performance that we thought was equal to or better than Rochette's.

Unlike most of the other events we've attended, they actually held a full medal ceremony after the end of the figure skating.

Then the three medalists stayed on the ice and posed for pictures until most of the crowd had a chance to see them up close. Can you tell that we really enjoyed ourselves?

We also got a chance to see the NBC commentators up close. But we still hate the way NBC packages the Olympics. More than 30 minutes after the end of the event, they were still producing their commentary, since they had not yet actually aired the final skaters' performances.

Back outside, we had just a short walk to a bus and then a Skytrain ride back to where we had parked our car. Once again, we were back in Bellingham well before midnight.

Tomorrow we're back to Vancouver for Short Track Speed Skating.

By the way, I've got more photos on my Flickr site.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Our Fourth Olympic Day - Freestyle Skiing

Yesterday, we made our way up to Cypress Mountain north of Vancouver for the finals of the Women's Freestyle Aerials competition. This was actually the first event I got tickets for and we were seated in the front row, giving me a perfect spot to hang my flag.
The weather could have been better. After suffering through very warm weather and a lack of snow, the past few days have turned colder and last night they got snow at Cypress. But in Vancouver, when the weather gets like this, we get fog. And as you can see, it was quite foggy at Cypress.

In spite of the fog, we were able to see the skiers when they launched off the 40-foot high kickers, a the competition was great, with three women from the USA, four from China, two from Belarus, and three from Australia.
By the start of the event, the stands filled with lots of very enthusiastic fans. This group sitting behind us kept getting onto the huge video screen. I wonder why.

In spite of the fog, I was able to get some pretty good images.

The strong Chinese women's team turned out to be no match for Lydia Lassila, who won the gold medal for Australia.

There are even more photos on my Flickr site.

Monday, February 22, 2010

My Third Day the 2010 Winter Olympics

One of the things I said that I wanted to do during the Olympics was to go up to Whistler to ski and watch the men's downhill. Unfortunately, with the changes during the first week of competition due to poor weather up at Whistler, I was not able to do this. But yesterday, I ended up with the next best thing.

My friend Marvin Wayne joined me to drive up to Whistler on Sunday morning, leaving Bellingham at 6am. As an Edge Card holder, I was able to buy a driving/parking pass that entitled me to drive to Whistler. We arrived at 8:45am and immediately took the Whistler gondola up and skied over to an observation area where we could watch the men's downhill portion of the Super Combined.

We were in a crowd of around 100 people overlooking a turn called "The Weasel." Of course, what you see is a skier flying past at more than 60 mph. Each came into view and then blazed past us in just a matter of seconds. But it was still thrilling. We screamed and rang cowbells and waved flags as each competitor came into view, surrounded by a crowd from all over the world.

We stayed here and watched until the completion of this portion of the event. The men would then compete in the slalom portion of the super combined, which was held much further down toward Creekside. Because it was much lower on the mountain, we were not able to ski over to watch.

Rather than buy a ticket to watch the slalom, we packed up and headed back out to ski.

And what an incredible day of skiing, under a crystal clear blue sky. Coming up the 7th Heaven chair we were behind a snow boarder who was obviously part of the USA team. She looked a lot like Kelly Clark. I finally had to ski over to her and ask. "No. I'm one of the coaches. But I get asked that a lot." She was at Whistler riding with friends. We skied down Glacier Drive with her and her friends and then headed off for some more runs. It was incredible meeting people from all over the world. I rode chairs with people from Russia, Poland, Croatia, name it.

Once we finished skiing, we headed back to a friend's condo to change clothes and then went back into Whistler Village to The Brewhouse where we ate dinner, drank beer, and watched the USA defeat Canada in hockey 5 to 3. The crowd in the bar was evenly split between Canadian and American, and cheers and cowbells rang out throughout the game.

When the game ended just before 7pm,. I went outside and managed to get a standby ticket to the medals ceremony. Here's a video that truly captures the excitement, first with Evgeny Ustyugov winning the gold medal for Russia in the Men's 15 km Mass Start Biathlon and then Bode Miller receiving his second gold metal after winning the Men's Super Combined.

I then hung out for a bit longer to watch some of the performance by New Republic before heading back to the condo and then driving back to Bellingham. I was back in the house around 11pm, having spent an incredible day at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

I now have a couple of days to catch my breath before we head back to Vancouver and Whistler for 4 straight days of events. We've got tickets for the Women's Freestyle Aerials on Wednesday, the Women's Figure Skating long program on Thursday, Short Track Speed Skating on Friday (men's 500m, women's 1000m, and men's 5000m relay), and finally the last two heats of the 4-man bobsled up at Whistler on Saturday.

So far, the 2010 Winter Olympics have lived up to every expectation. The venues have been fantastic. The volunteers have been fantastic. I even must congratulate the people responsible for managing travel up to Whistler. Somehow, they managed to add an extra lane to the Sea to Sky Highway so that the road was two lanes all the way to Whistler and then at night two lanes from Whistler back to Vancouver. We experienced just a small slow down leaving Whistler.

There are even more photos on my Flickr site.