Friday, March 5, 2010

with glowing hearts- vancouver 2010

ALRIGHT. so its been five days since the closing ceremonies of the 2010 vancouver olympics. and i know that if i wait any longer, things are only going to get blurrier.. so here's how the games went…

we'll start with a little bit of a warm up.. opening ceremonies were friday, feb. 12th. braden came home on the 10th, and we spent all day on the 11th driving around the city taking pictures of various olympic-type things.. the lions on the lions gate bridge had red mittens on, as did the inukshuk at the mouth of false creek. so we visited those and took pictures with our mittens on. then we hit downtown and wandered robson square, down to canada place (which became the media centre) and up granville, where we saw trevor linden in front of the royal canadian mint pavillion. we strolled through yaletown, under the cambie bridge- where you could see the athlete's village across false creek, then to bc place, where i had to be for our final rehearsal for the opening ceremonies.

friday feb 12.
i got to bc place around 10am and was assigned to start "snowing" the stadium. so i went up to the 400-level, grabbed a plastic bag and stuffed it full of snow. well really, full of tissue paper squares… then i spent hours going up and down rows, making sure there was snow everywhere. essentially, they were telling us to go nuts making a mess that we wouldn't even have to clean up later! could you ask for a better job?

then we heard about an accident up at the whistler sliding centre. a luger was hurt changed quickly into a heartbreaking story about a 21-year old georgian luger. we were lucky in that we didn't have access to tv in the stadium, but were getting messages that the footage was horrific. i still haven't seen the video. i can't. i don't see how any good can come from watching a boy die, a family collapse and a town crumble. was this going to be the much talked-about 2010 legacy? were the games going to slowly fall out from under us? they didn't. in the end, we all came together, united by tragedy and joy, inspired by the stories around us.

after another classic boxed lunch- sandwich, granola bar, green apple and bottled water (same thing once or twice per shift since christmas)- it was time to load some batteries. every single seat in the stadium had an audience kit on it. thats approximately 65,000 audience kits. this includes athlete seats, the press box and the dignitaries box. its a lot of seats. in those audience kits were 1 mini flashlight, 1 battery-operated candle, 1 canada flag (its never too late to become canadian), 1 drum stick and 1 VERY stylish white or sky-blue fabric poncho-esque cape. dispersed throughout the stadium were 220-something audience leaders- VERY enthusiastic individuals in charge of guiding their sections through the timing and use of their props (ie- candles for song of peace etc..). fortunately, we didn't have to load batteries into ALL those kits. only the 2700ish athlete kits, because they would be arriving after the audience got their little intro/ practice session in the pre-show (the hour leading up to the actual opening ceremony). so we sat in groups, on the floor, in chairs, around tables opening the kits, opening the flashlights and candles and popping batteries in, then making sure both lit up before repacking everything and moving on to the next kit.

and then it was time to get downstairs to lockup. quick description of the set up of the stadium…. ok, under the lower stands and the concourse level (where you would normally enter the stadium, buy your hot dog/beer/ popcorn.. before you actually go in to your seats) is what i'm calling backstage. there's a road all the way around the inside of the stadium (its called the ring road.. go figure). the actual INSIDE of the stadium, where all the performances were (the "stage" if you will) is the field of play (or FOP). and finally.. there were 6 doorways for performers to get onto the FOP- 2 big ones at either end of the stadium, and 2 on each side.. these doorways= voms. short for vomitory. you think i'm making this up? i only WISH i could be that clever. they are vomitories. vomitoires en francais. they're numbered 1-6. lockup, where we kept our props was located between vom 2 and vom 3, and was just that- a whole bunch of moduloc fencing covered in black felty fabric- set up on both sides of the ring road. during the ceremony we were technically supposed to stay in lockup, out of the way of athletes and performers.. that didn't quite happen though.

they had us all in lockup pretty early… maybe an hour and a bit before the show started, and our prop wasn't until an hour and a half into the show.. so we had some time to kill. a group of friends and i played some pretty intense games of crazy eights and go fish, then worked (as a team) on a crossword or two. yep, good times.

BUT THEN! the athlete's started arriving. so we all ran to front row seats (still within the doorways to lockup) to clap and yell and take pictures of vancouver 2010's athletes. quick note- in opening ceremonies, teams walk in alphabetically. greece always starts (because they had the first games ever) and the host country always comes last. so they all filed in, team by team, in their wintery ceremonies best gear. because the athletes all had to be there early enough to make sure everyone was in place, they had to wait quite a while (45 mins) backstage. with us. we had team finland parked in front of us for a solid chunk of time. then we started to break free from lockup. we got pins and pictures with athletes from all over. the ceremony finally began and the athletes started marching out onto the FOP. we cheered our little hearts out for every country (except for georgia, because it just didn't feel right… we did clap politely though). then we were swarmed by the american team (which was HUGE). and because they're american and we're canadian there was a pretty hefty yelling match going- USA! vs. CANADA! now, as 50ish props volunteers, we didn't do very well, despite our best efforts, you can't competed with hundreds of very fit people in a yelling match. but then we were joined by team canada. poor uzbekistan- the team of mayyybe 5 people were trapped between a friendly yelling match between 2 of the biggest teams at the games. they all looked very overwhelmed by it all. we wished both teams (as well as uzbekistan) good luck and good times. i managed to sneak in a picture with clara hughes, the canadian flag-bearer, one of only 2 athlete's to ever medal in both a summer and winter olympics. she's just amazing.

for those who did watch the opening ceremonies.. i was a part of the fiddler/tappers number.. with the guy in the canoe coming down from the ceiling.. for those who didn't watch.. you really should have. right at the very beginning of the number, 50 or so strong-looking men carry out giant maple leaves that stand up around the centre of the FOP. my parter kaveh and i were in charge of maple leaf #7. that means carrying it from lockup onto sawhorses in the ring road by vom 1, making sure it was all untangled and preset properly, so that our two builders (milan and scott)- the cast members responsible for getting them on to the FOP and setting them up- wouldn't have any problems getting the leaf to open. the builders (all of them) were great guys. it was pretty funny just how nervous they were. nervous and excited. they rocked those leaves. i'm proud of all my builders.
after the number, we collected our leaf, slammed it into a giant bodybag and set it back up leaning against the wall where it rested. then we were lucky enough to get to go upstairs and watch the rest of the show. which was amazing. i'd seen everything but the torch before in rehearsal. but it was a million times better in real life. and despite the little glitch with the cauldron, everything was perfect! the games were on. vancouver was pumped.

i met up with my family after the ceremony (they were all there) and headed out for some champagne- well, a lot of champagne.

monday feb. 14- chinese new year & v-day
i worked on sunday, and then caught up on sleep. so nothing really happened… monday, braden and i went downtown and met friends in town from edmonton for lunch and some beer. it was a PERFECT vancouver day- sunny, clear and beautiful, so we walked down to the outdoor cauldron to take some pics. my parents also happened to be in the area, so we all met up and went for some more beer. while we were in the bar, alexandre bilodeau was skiing the moguls up at cypress (literally 15 mins from my house). then the results came in and CANADA HAD A GOLD MEDAL!!! the first of the 2010 games for us. but more importantly, a gold on home soil- the first ever! (we failed to get a single gold medal in the 88 winter games in calgary or in the 76 summer games in montreal…there were a lot of people out there believing we were cursed to never win at home). holy exciting!! after dani and mike left, my family stumbled down the block to dinner. at one of the fanciest restaurants in town. i believe i was wearing blue jeans, converse sneakers and a red canada hoodie. there may have even been a flag cape.. its all kind of a blur. oh. and its valentines day. so everyone in the place was dressed up for their dates. yeah, we crashed that party.

the next couple days were work work and rehearsals for closing ceremonies.

thursday feb. 18.
i headed downtown to meet dani and mike (edmonton friends) and watch the hockey game- canada vs. switzerland- at a sports bar. we watched most of the game together, but early in the 3rd, they had to leave to go to a victory ceremony. so i stayed at the bar, made some friends (because i had free chairs all of a sudden) and kept them updated on the nail-biter of a game (which went into shootouts. i HATE shootouts). crosby came through for us and put one in on our 4th shot. spent the rest of the night wandering the streets generally celebrating life. with thousands of other people.

friday feb 19.
after work, i went downtown to meet my dad for dinner, then we headed to canada hockey place (aka gm place during the non-olympic time) for the 9pm germany/ finland game. neither of us really cared who won, but the girl next to us was a diehard fin fan, so by the end we were yelling at salo almost as loud as she was.

saturday feb. 20.
worked all morning, then headed out to pacific coliseum in east vancouver for short track speed skating. we figured we'd drive because then we could just hop on the highway to get home instead of having to go back downtown. so we're donig big laps of the area looking for parking. we turn down a residential street and there are probably 8-10 asian women outside in their big winter jackets, waving us down. we pulled over to talk to one of them and she said for $20 we could park in her driveway. so we did. we were a block away from the coliseum, for $20. doesn't get much better than that!! we saw the mens 1000m and womens 1500m races- heats, semis then finals. things were going really well for canada, we ended up with 1 woman in the finals (of 8 women) and 2 men in the finals (of 5). tania vincent ended up 8th, you could just tell she didn't have it in her. then the hamelin brothers- charles and francois ended up in 4th and 5th. it was heartbreaking.

sunday feb 21.
our second group of houseguests arrive. the first, maureen, is a friend of braden's from his antarctic adventure 2 years ago. she was a volunteer slipper up at cypress. basically she was halfway up the runs and in between heats, was one of the many shovelling and side-slipping down the mountain to get more snow onto the course. she stayed with us for the entire 17 days of the games.
second group- wendel, frances, her husband walter and their 19-month old son andre. the brown family. an athlete family. wendel is the brother and frances is the sister of shelley-anne brown, brakeswoman on the canadian bobsled team, in the canada 2 sled. andre is probably the cutest little boy of all time. ever. we were watching the americans kill us at hockey on tv and andre pulled himself up onto the couch and just plopped down right next to me. and stayed there. when he wasnt being my buddy, he was hunting the dog. "dog dog dog dog tug!" as he would wander around the kitchen looking for tug. they stayed with us until the 24th, when they headed up to whistler to watch shelley-anne race.

so lets skip some days of rehearsals and an 8-2 victory in the qualifying (read: extra practice) game against germany and jump to the 24th….

wednesday feb. 24.
so after losing to the americans in mens hockey on the 21st- because marty (brodeur…) got confused and thought he was playing baseball.. everyone was feeling a little down. it seemed we were going away from gold. really, we were just taking the hard way… we should've seen that coming early..
anyways.. vancouver was still rockin, but not as hard as before.
until the 24th, that is. because that was the day of 4 medals and the canada/ russia hockey game. probably my second favourite olympic moment. i was lucky enough to get to be at the game with my parents and my uncle. laugh all you want, it was the best game i've ever seen live. ovechkin- russian enemy #1 had made it known that his mission was to bring team canada down on home ice. OVECHKIN FAIL. he barely even showed up to play. but that didn't stop our boys from throwing in a little extra elbow whenever possible on our way to a 7-3 victory.

oh. and. shelley anne brown, our girl, won the silver medal!!!!!!! she and her partner (the pilot) helen finished 2nd behind canada 1. silver AND gold! SO EXCITING!!! we watched the last couple runs at canada hockey place, right after the game. UNREAL! huge congrats to shelley anne!

after that vancouver didn't stop. it was the beginning of the party-til-the-end. and what a party it was!

thursday feb. 25.
mom and i headed out to pacific coliseum to watch the women's figure skating long programs. story of the night- joannie rochette. the 24-year old skater from quebec, who lost her mother sunday morning. 2 days before her short- program. she went on to skate, and finished in 3rd. 2 days later, at the long program, she skated her heart out and managed to hang on to that 3rd place finish and win the bronze medal. absolutely incredible. she is such a trooper.

we also won women's hockey gold. we were halfway there.

friday feb. 26.
canada v. slovakia. braden and i ran around downtown trying to find a bar that wasn't full. this was an hour and a half before the game started. we did everually get in somewhere and watched a solid first 2 periods and a very shaky 3rd. but the boys hung on and louuuuu saved the day.
which capped off a 3 medal day.
the bar we were at was right on the water by the cauldron, and when we won silver in womens curling, the olympic rings in the harbour changed from blue to silver. then we got gold in mens 500m and 5000m short track and the rings turned gold. very cool.
it was pretty rainy out, but we had 3 pitchers of beer in us, so it didn't seem so bad at first. so we headed out to the cauldron and were the last people let in that night before they closed off the viewing area. then we met up with laur, my roommate while i was in victoria, and the three of us hit robson square (the centre of everything downtown) and granville street and just wandered and made friends with some very happy people. our boys were one away from gold. one away from all the way.
so what to do? its raining out? hit the bar of course! we met up with a couple more friends from victoria who were in town and laur's cousin and hung out for a while. braden left to be part of a music video, laur, her cousin and i left to find cabs home. oh, and we saw gretzky. no big deal…
somehow it had gotten to be 230am and pouring rain. so cabs were pretty hard to come by. i had started walking towards home (really, what else could i do) when i finally managed to leap into a cab, nearly landing on the people trying to get out.

saturday. feb 27.
braden and i both slept in a little and headed down to the athlete's village (on the far side of downtown) for 1pm. both my parents were volunteering there- my dad in the parking lot and my mom in resident services in team canada's building (does it get any cooler than that?! i mean, unless of course you're a props vollie at the ceremonies). so they hooked us up with some guest passes and a tour of the village. SO FREAKIN cool! they have free dental and eye exams! which means if you're from a country where you can't afford to see these kinds of doctors because all your money goes to being a superstar athlete, you get hooked up with a cleaning and fillings and contacts or glasses. how cool is that? i was very impressed. they've also got a mobile CT and MRI. unreal! we poked our heads in one of canada's 2 residences and bilodeau just happened to be walking out.. AH! we took our pictures with the moose out front, saw some other pretty cool athletes, talked to a pin-trader from atlanta (btw- if the olympics come to your hometown… pins are HUGE! people go crazy for them!! its so funny!) then i had to leave to get to the stadium for dress rehearsal. which meant that braden would obviously run into crosby and weber in the gift shop. I COULD HAVE DIED when he called me. SERIOUSLY?! classic braden.

dress rehearsal went well… pretty standard… hanging out with michael buble and some giant inflatable animals.. then a private concert with avril, nickelback, hedley and simple plan… whatever...

sunday feb. 28.
THE BIG DAY. closing ceremonies. preceded by canada vs. the us for mens hockey gold. not going to lie, i was nervous from the moment i woke up. as much as i hate to admit it, i nearly had a moment's doubt that the boys could pull this off. i mean, miller is a machine. he's the best there is right now. and we needed to get at least 1 by him. preferably more than 1.
i was on the bus going downtown at 755am- i had to be at the stadium for a 9am shift start. the bus was nearly full of people in jerseys and canada sweaters and flags. and red mittens of course. i got downtown at 830 and every bar in town had line ups outside of people waiting to get in, so they could be there for the 12:30 puck drop. i think the same was happening all across the country. beer was being chilled, jerseys donned, faces painted, flags secured to hockey sticks (for superior waving techniques) and then the waiting started.
for the first 3 hours of my shift i was snowing the stadium again. this time i was assigned to the press box, so i went nuts.. i didn't want the media to feel left out of the snow fun. pretty sure every other volunteer in the place wanted our jobs.
i grabbed a really quick lunch (sandwich, green apple, granola bar, bottled water) then we hunted down a tv in the media section of the stadium- they had couches and nice big tvs and carpet! luxury!
and then toews scored. and everyone KNEW we could do this. we just had to fight through the next 2 periods.
fearing we would soon be kicked out of our cushy viewing spot, we booked it across the street to the lunchroom for security and other volunteers (we got our lunches in the stadium) between the periods and were nicely settled by the time the 2nd started. and perry scored. 2-0. more comfortable, but not quite relaxing yet.
then kesler scored. and the whole room's heart rates went up by 5 times. we just had to fight it out. one more period. 20 minutes. and we nearly did. until parise. 25 seconds from gold. the room stopped breathing. overtime. 4 on 4. sudden death. gold on the line. i have never been that stressed out before in my life.
and then there was crosby. sid the kid. who played an overall unimpressive (if not pretty darned lame) game. it couldn't have been anyone else. that's how things were meant to be, you couldn't have written a better ending. "crosby scores for canada!" everyone knows where they were when it happened. 33 million people know exactly where they were 7 minutes and 40 seconds into overtime. crosby brought us gold. he saved the day. he saved the city from rioting. he saved the country from a collective heart-attack followed by a long and deep depression. he is why canada believes.
by this time we were a little bit late for our 3 oclock call back to the stadium, but there was NO way we were leaving that tv before we had gold. so we ran back, everyone texting friends and family- gold medal hockey texting is a lot like drunk texting.. all that excitement means a lots of mistakes. but it doesn't matter in the least.
our assignment when we got back to the stadium was to "protect the props from the athletes who will be in VERY good spirits". basically, line up in front of our giant hockey player props (they were most at risk because of their location in the airlock doors where the athletes were entering the stadium), and just stand between the best athletes in the world, and huge hockey players. oh. and help to get those giant gold medals on the hockey players (which apparently the techies weren't even allowed to make before we had beaten slovakia and made it to the gold medal game, then weren't allowed to put them on until we had it- mostly because that would be bad luck in the biggest way).
once we had made sure our props were safe, we went back towards lockup, where team canada just so happened to be waiting to walk onto the FOP. so we just hung out. i found shelley-anne and introduced myself. she rocks. niedermayer bumped into me. my friend yelled out to jon montgomery HEY JON! he yelled hey back.

then it was go time. for the last time. get the mounties set up. wheel the beavers into place. squeeze the moose through the ring road. inflate the beavers. hold the beavers' hands down so that their heads don't hit the potentially pointy or hot pipes up above. get a major case of beaver hand (hand cramps). chat with the beaver wranglers. such a fun group of guys. didn't let any of it go to their heads, just wanted to rock it. then the beavers were out, buble was on his mountie hat and then beavers were flying back down the vom ramp. i was in charge of the 3rd beaver off at vom 1. this meant getting a team of 4- 1 person/ beaver hand, 2 on the tail to make sure nothing was hitting the roof or walls as we ran down the ring road to put our beaver to bed one last time. after all the beavers and moose and canoes had been put away, i helped deflate the 70 kilo zorbs (the russian hamster balls with people in them) and stack those. and then it was over. poof. c'est tout fini. i stepped out of the stadium 20 seconds before the fireworks were launched from the roof. i have never stood directly under fireworks before. its amazing! quite a view! the mood on the street was pretty upbeat as you can probably imagine, everyone out enjoying the win and the last day of fun together.

17 days. i can't believe its over. monday morning began the citywide depression. no one could believe it was over. no more partying in the street? no more making friends just because they're waving the same flag you are? no more interesting foreigners on the bus with amazing stories?

all good things must eventually come to an end, i suppose. all i know is that i don't think anyone here will ever forget those 17 days. i know i won't.

we've been through some things together
with trunks of memories still to come
we found things to do in stormy weather
long may you run.
-neil young

now the final flick of a hockey stick, and the one gigantic scream
the good ol' hockey game.
-stompin' tom connors