Thursday, February 25, 2010

Fairly light agenda today although Canada v. USA for women’s hockey gold can hardly be called light! We arrived downtown about an hour before puck drop and met up with Kelsie Fraser, who was coming with us so that Catherine could do some work! Passed through the usual security checks although the express check turned out to be much slower than the regular check. 

The game was excellent and very intense. The US were determined not to go down without a fight. The Canadian goalie, Shannon Szabados, was outstanding and recorded the shutout in Canada’s 2-0 triumph with both Canadian goals coming from the stick of Marie-Philip Poulin. During one of the intermissions, we met up with Kevin Reinhart and his family for the obligatory photo, complete with Canadian flag. Kevin combed his hair for the occasion!

As the clock ran down, the Canadian players swarmed on to the ice and the celebrations began. The medals were awarded there and then with Finland taking the bronze. While gracious in defeat, the US players were keen to leave the ice but had to stay for their medal presentation. I thought the Canadian crowd was particularly classy as they chanted U-S-A during the silver medal presentation. Finally, it was time to award the gold medals and the crowd went crazy. As the ceremony was winding down, I was surprised to see an announcement on the big screen that Team Canada Champion hats and shirts were available for sale on the concourse … and the teams hadn’t even left the ice yet. Marketing at its best, I guess!

Following the game, we left Canada Hockey Place and met up with Catherine at the Victory Ceremonies in BC Place. We watched the Canadian women’s short track relay team get their silver medals and then saw the Canadian women get their bobsleigh gold and silver medals live from Whistler. The medal presentations were followed by the Burton Cummings concert – Devon and Logan were bored but saved by the games on their iPods, while Catherine and I enjoyed the show. As the Victory Ceremonies were winding down, we found out that Joannie Rochette, who we had watched in the ladies’ figure skating short program a couple days before, won a bronze medal.

Overall, another great day in Vancouver. Did I mention that it was overcast and rainy all day?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Today we are set for a very busy day. We headed out first to the Richmond Oval for the women’s 5,000 m speed skating. We decided to drive as we had to be back downtown quickly for the Canada-Russia hockey game. We found a brilliant parking spot only a block from the oval – a substantial upgrade over the 1.6 km walk from the train station. Even better, the parking was free! What we didn’t anticipate was the long line-up of fans to get into the venue. We arrived almost 30 minutes before the start-time only to find a line up at least three blocks long! After clearing the security check and grabbing pepperoni pizzas for lunch, we found our seats. The third pair of eight was already on the track and anticipation was starting to build for the two Canadians in the final three pairs.

Race times were getting better and better with each group and then it was time for Clara Hughes. She got off to a fantastic start and all of her split times were better than those that had raced before her. At the conclusion of her race, she was in first place with four skaters to go. Next up was Kristina Groves. She quickly fell off the pace and was never in contention for a medal. The German skater in Kristina’s pair finished with a better time than Clara Hughes, bumping her into second place with two skaters to go. The final pair included the world record holder from the Czech Republic. She blazed around the track to win the gold medal, leaving Canada in third place with a bronze. This bronze medal ties Clara Hughes with Cindy Klassen as the most decorated Canadian Olympian (they have both won six Olympic medals) and she is the only Canadian to have won medals at both the summer and winter games. Well done, Clara! 

We raced to our car following the event to get downtown in time for the Canada-Russia men’s hockey game. We sat down in Canada Hockey Place with about 20 minutes to go. Once again, great seats – first row of the balcony. The place was electric and way louder than the Canada-USA game a few days before. The crowd erupted into “Let’s Go Canada!” when the teams came out and play began. Canada completely dominated the game from the get-go and the first period was the best first period of hockey I have ever seen. These guys are seriously good! With Canada up by several goals, the tension eased from the crowd and the party began, with the fans getting more and more excited as the clock ran down. As the third period reached the mid-way mark, the whole building started chanting “Where’s Ovech-kin?” followed by “We want Sweden” and then, “We want the Gold”. Guess we never anticipated that Slovakia would be our opponent in the semi-final! When all was said and done, Canada won 7-3 and the Russians were sent home. All is well in the world again!

Following the game we rushed over to BC Place to attend the Victory Ceremony. As we sat down, Clara Hughes was given her bronze medal. It was awesome to be there to see it. Following the medal presentation, we sat back and enjoyed an hour of the INXS concert. They were really good with their new Canadian frontman.

The concert ended and we headed for our car to get to the airport and collect our two little guys, Devon and Logan, who were flying in from Calgary under the watchful eye of Kelsie Fraser – thanks Kelsie! Big thanks too to Sarah Wilson for watching them while we were here earlier in the week.

As we were walking to our car, we received a text from some friends who were having dinner at a restaurant and they had spotted Wayne Gretzky, Craig MacTavish and Chad Kroeger from Nickelback. As we read the text, we realized we had just passed the restaurant. We headed back to find our friends and do some celebrity spotting. Our friends had already left but we did run into Wayne, Craig and Chad. I contemplated a photo for the blog but thought better of it since they were all having dinner. We left and headed out to the airport.

Picked up the airport gang and headed home. It was a great day. One of the best so far. The crowds are back on the streets again and the noise level is cranking back up. Given all the medals Canada won today (gold and silver in women’s bobsleigh, silver in women’s short track, bronze in women’s speed skating) and the fact that Canada sent the Russians home in hockey, I would vote February 24 as the new Canada Day! Did I mention that it tried to rain all day but never really did?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Today was fairly quiet and I’d have to say it was not because Catherine has lost her voice! You might naturally attribute this to too much Olympic partying but I can assure you it is cold-related. With one event this evening, we decided to take it easy. Having blogged for several days now, I realized that my camera is just not doing the job. It was the perfect excuse to go out and buy another. Hopefully, the Olympic photos from now on will be a bit better.

We invited some friends to join us for the Women’s Figure Skating Short Program and arranged to meet them at the Vancouver Film Studios where one of our friends is logistics manager for the TV series, “Fringe”. We left our car in the parking stall belonging to Fringe’s Director of Photography and then got a ride to the Pacific Coliseum. They are just wrapping up the final few episodes of Season 2. 

The results for today’s figure skating have Canada in third place with an excellent shot at a medal on Thursday. Joannie Rochette put in a first class performance to place third. This was remarkable given that her mother passed away from a heart attack when arriving in Vancouver a few days ago. You could see the emotion on Joannie’s face at the end of her performance and the crowd gave her a standing ovation.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) will be a busy day with speed skating, Canada-Russia elimination hockey, victory ceremony with INXS and a trip out to the airport to pick up our two little guys who will see the rest of the Games with us. I’m going to need a good night’s sleep to get psyched for the hockey game and Catherine needs to get better. Did I mention that it rained all day today?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Vancouver was quieter today. Fewer people on the streets than before. Canada’s hockey loss on Sunday has taken some air out of the balloon. Still lots of Team Canada hockey sweaters all over the place, but the fans are subdued. There is clearly a nervous feeling in the air.

We had to return a rental car to the airport and then head from there to the Pacific Coliseum for the Ice Dance gold medal event. We took the new Canada Line train downtown. It was efficient and fast. We transferred to the Skytrain for the trip out to the venue. All went smoothly. As expected, lots of walking but no delays.

A much different crowd for figure skating than for hockey. For the most part, you could have heard a pin drop. As the evening wore on and anticipation started to build for the final few performances involving the Canadians, Americans and Russians, the crowd started to make more noise. It also occurred to us that we were sitting right above the family of American figure skater, Emily Samuelson, who had performed earlier that night.

The American pair of Meryl Davis & Charlie White put in an outstanding performance setting the bar high for the Canadian pair of Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir to win gold. The Canadians delivered a flawless routine and when the score was posted, the place went wild! At that point, the noise level equaled the hockey crowd from the previous night.

It was a privilege to be at an event where Canada won Olympic gold. It was particularly special when the Mounties brought out the Canadian flag and raised it to the rafters to the sound of O Canada. 

After the victory ceremony, we made a mad dash for the exit and cabbed it back downtown to the Jet Sport hospitality suite for a late dinner. As we dined on mushroom soup, bison short ribs with mashed potato and cappuccino crème brulee, it seemed to me that the next IR group team-building event should involve ice dancing! My sense is that Tim Chatten would be good at this! Did I mention that the weather today was spectacular - blue skies, sunshine and not a single cloud in the sky?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunday. Heading back to the Olympic city. Flight on time from Calgary and lots of fans on the plane all wearing their Canadian gear. First thing that struck me when arriving at the airport was how much busier it was than when we arrived on the first weekend. The waiting areas were packed with people ready to go home from a busy week of cheering. One can only imagine what it will be like in a week’s time when the world goes home.

Headed to the Coca Cola pin trading booth at the airport to get the “pin of the day” while waiting for my bag to arrive. Picked up Days 1 through 10 but could not find Day 6. Looks like eBay will have to bale me out.

Once again, the drive to our place just past Horseshoe Bay was easy. Too bad that Vancouver traffic isn’t always like this. Dropped off the bags, put on our Team Canada jerseys and then it was back to town to one of our favourite eating places – Savary Island Pie Company in West Vancouver. This place makes the best carrot cake and pies we have ever tasted. They are so good. Lavonne Zdunich’s carrot cake comes very close and we have an idea or two that could move her to the gold medal podium! 

After a wonderful lunch, we headed downtown and into the action. Once again, a big difference from last weekend. I would have to say the crowds are now at least five times larger. There are people everywhere. It really is festive and fantastic to be here. We headed over to Canada Hockey Place to get ready for the much anticipated Canada-USA hockey game. On the way there, we ran into Brent Tilford (one of our highly esteemed corporate accountants!). He had just been to the Russia-Czech hockey game and was getting ready to go back for the Canada-USA game. Turns out we were sitting in the same section.

Before going to the game, we waited in line at the ticket office to try and get Catherine’s daughter a ticket to the Canada-USA game. We cycled through the line several times before giving up. She ended up getting a ticket from a ticket broker – price undisclosed! 

On arriving at Canada Hockey Place, we raced through the security checks only to crash into a wall of people. Everybody is funneled into the stadium through a single entry point! It was a mass of humanity converging onto a set of stairs and a walkway. The photos give you a good sense for the sea of people. In Calgary, we call this the C of Red at Flames hockey games. Looks to me that the C of Red is alive and well in Vancouver too!

Our seats were excellent - first row of the balcony. The place was loud and roaring to go. The media literally took up one full side of the ice rink. Now I know why the only Olympic hockey tickets I could find were behind the goals or up high.

The festive mood soon quieted when the US scored first. It was a tense, exciting game with Canada coming back twice to make the score even. In the end, the US prevailed to win 5-3, with an empty-netter. Having been outshot 45-23, Ryan Miller, the US goalie stood on his head and was the difference-maker. Well done, USA – is this the start of Miracle on Ice Deux? Canada now plays Germany, with the Russians waiting in the wings.

The US fans were very excited and good-spirited throughout the game with the exception of the six annoying US fans behind us that were spilling beer all over the place, constantly yelling U-S-A in our ears for an hour and a half and tapping me on the shoulder whenever Canada ended up in the penalty box! 

Following the game, the crowds were, as expected, a lot quieter than before the game. Still thousands of people everywhere. After a quick Japanese meal, we called it a day and headed home. Once again, a great day in Vancouver despite the disappointing hockey game. Did I mention it was about 15 degrees with sunshine and not a single cloud in the sky?

Sunday & Monday, February 14 & 15, 2010

Both of these were down days. Good to take a break from all the activity. Now it’s time to come home and get to work for a week before heading back for the final week of competition when it will be Canada hockey, hockey, hockey!

Once again, traffic today (Monday) was relatively light. No problems getting to the airport and checking in. Stopped by the Coca Cola pin trading centre at the airport and picked up a few pins. These are certainly all the rage here. Everybody has pins! We got a Coca Cola pin specially designed with a photo of us holding the Olympic torch. Great little souvenir of our first few days here.

At the airport, everybody is watching CTV. Even on the WestJet flight home, most of the TV’s were tuned to an Olympic event. It was neat to see Alexandre Bilodeau get his gold medal at about 35,000 feet!

Really looking forward to coming back next weekend. Canada is starting to crank it up medal-wise. That will be it for my blogs for a few days. Did I mention it hasn’t rained for two days now?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Saturday morning and the first day of official Olympic competition. Today, we have tickets for speed skating at the Richmond Oval and for short track speed skating at the Pacific Coliseum.

We headed downtown to park and catch the new Canada Line train out to Richmond. Traveling to the venue was simple and free with our event tickets. What we did not expect was to have to walk over 1.5 km from the train station to the venue. This was not a big deal for us but might have been for older or disabled spectators. The highlight of the walk was all the people handing out free stuff! We all got bottles of cranberry juice and even got several pairs of orange mittens handed out by Dutch supporters.

We arrived at the venue and after passing through the security checks (where we had to throw out our free cranberry juice!), we were in. A very impressive and intimate venue for speed skating. All seats looked to be excellent. The event (men’s 5,000 m) was a lot of fun and it was great to see the gold medalist from the Netherlands break the Olympic record. The crowd was into it as well. Lots of Netherlands supporters all wearing orange (looked like over half the building was wearing orange). At the end of the event, a Dutch band that looked to be made up of fans in the building, started playing and the party was on! 

Following the event, we made a mad dash back to the train as we only had two hours before the start of our next event. Took us an hour to get on a train headed back to Vancouver. We then had to catch another train out to the Pacific Coliseum followed by a 10 minute express bus ride. There certainly is a lot of walking to be done if you want to attend events at the games. Once the bus dropped us off, we still had quite a hike before we finally got to our seats. We sat down just as the first short track event was underway.

The short track was exceptional. It is a very exciting sport to watch and the fans really get into it. Lots of fans from all over the world cheering on their athletes. The highlight of this event was the gold medal men’s 1,500 m event. Korea was set to sweep gold, silver and bronze with about 10 m to go when the second and third place Koreans collided and spun off the track. This allowed the Americans to finish second and third and gave Apolo Anton Ohno his sixth short track medal from three Olympic games.

Following the event, we ran back to the bus to avoid the commuting crowds. Upon arriving back downtown, we headed to the Jet Sport Hospitality Suite for dinner and to unwind. We had bought some of our tickets from Jet Sport and they came with free food and drinks. The food spread was exceptional as was the dessert section! There was a special section featuring cuisine from Sochi, Russia, where the next winter Olympics will be held in 2014. The service was excellent and we are looking forward to more hospitality in about a week’s time.

All in all, a very good day. Very busy, lots of exercise and definitely time to go to bed. A full day of Olympic action is quite exhausting. Did I mention it was raining?

Friday, February 12, 2010

An early start to the day to try and get the tickets that I couldn’t get the night before. Thought if I went down early I might be able to beat the crowds. Wrong! The drive downtown was quick and parking was easy to find but there were more people downtown at 8.00 am than there were the night before. The torch relay was in full swing winding its way through the city after having started at about 6.00 am with Arnold Schwarzenegger in Stanley Park. Robson Street was packed by the time I got there. The CTV broadcast booth filled the road complete with hundreds of onlookers.

I arrived at the ticket will-call office at exactly the same time as the Olympic torch! It was great to see the torch again after having seen it in Calgary but it also meant I wasn’t the first one down to the ticket booth. When I joined the ticket line, I was much further back from the front than I had been the night before! This time, the wait was about 90 minutes. Not bad, given that the line had grown to about a three hour wait by the time I left.

Finally, I arrived at the front of the line. There were only four ticket agents processing all the transactions. No wonder it was taking so long. People were able to get last minute tickets as well as pick up pre-orders. The last minute ticket sales really slowed things down and in my opinion, should have been a separate line. Everybody buying last minute tickets wanted to know what was available and what the various seat locations were like. Very time consuming!

Nevertheless, the ticket pick-up was successful second time round and it was time to head back home to pick up the family. Once again, traffic was pleasantly light.

We all headed back downtown around noon to meet up for lunch in Yaletown with my brother-in-law. As we were walking along Robson Street heading to the restaurant, my eldest son, Devon recognized Steve Nash with his daughter on his shoulders. We stopped him for a photo moment – what a great guy! He was more than happy to oblige.

The restaurant was packed (as was the case with most that we walked by). Lots of people all dressed up in their Canada gear mixing with people from all over the world. It was during lunch that we learned a luger from Georgia had died following an accident during practice. This dampened the mood substantially.

Well fed, it was almost time to head over to BC Place for the Opening Ceremonies. But first we made a detour to join our friends (Una, Doug and Katrina) at another restaurant for a glass of wine and a coffee. It was great meeting up with them and being able to share our early Olympic experiences. 

We headed over to BC Place together along with the rest of Canada. Lots of electricity in the air as we got closer and closer to the stadium. We arrived at the security checkpoints and these were surprisingly painless. Pretty much the same type of checkpoint as you see in an airport. Bags and backpacks were x-rayed while humans were scanned. All in all much quicker than the airports!

After passing through security, we headed into the stadium to locate our seats. We arrived about 45 minutes before the start time and the audience participation rehearsal was in full swing. Each seat had a specially marked audience participation pack allocated to it. The pack consisted of a cardboard drum, a specially coloured flashlight, a battery operated candle, a light coloured poncho and a Canadian flag. In addition, everyone was given a commemorative opening ceremonies book. Very classy.

The rehearsal was entertaining as we all took flashlights and candles apart to insert batteries and then practiced turning them on and waving them around when directed by our section leader. The atmosphere was fantastic with a buzz of expectation in the air. With 10 minutes to go until the 6.00 pm start, the countdown was on.

The ceremony was dedicated to Nodar Kumaritashvili, the 21 year-old luger who died during practice earlier in the day. Memorable moments of the ceremony were: the skateboarder flying into the stadium to start things off; the individual performances of Nelly Furtado, Bryan Adams, Sarah Mclachlan and kd Lang; the standing ovation given to the team from Georgia who had lost their teammate earlier that day; the rousing welcome given to the Canadian athletes; the music routine involving skiers and skateboarders suspended from the roof; the arrival of the Olympic flag carried by Bobby Orr, Donald Sutherland and other Canadian celebrities; and finally, the arrival of the Olympic torch and the lighting of the cauldron involving Rick Hansen, Catriona Le May Doan, Steve Nash (who we met earlier in the day), Nancy Greene and Wayne Gretzky. The whole evening was magical although it did seem like an eternity as the final torchbearers waited painstakingly for the cauldron to come up from the centre of the stadium.

Overall, a great start to the Olympics and a proud moment for Canadians. Did I mention it was raining?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

After fighting rush hour traffic, we made it to the Calgary Airport in good time for our 6.15 pm departure. Seemed to me that everyone at the airport was going to Vancouver. Lots of Canada shirts and jerseys to be seen. All was well organized and no delays getting to the departure gate. Unfortunately, the pilot’s chair was loose so that had to be fixed before departure! Only a 20 minute delay and we were on our way.

Arrived at the Vancouver airport around 7.00 pm and again, all went well. Very organized and really cool to see the Olympic décor all over the place. Subtle and tasteful. You could definitely tell that something special was going on. Lots of Olympic volunteers on hand with really colourful jackets. Big SUV’s parked outside with Olympic logos for members of the Olympic family. I figured that must surely include me but I was wrong!

Picked up our rental car in seconds and were on our way to downtown Vancouver. The plan was to get there in time to see Michael Buble run with the torch at 8.00 pm but the loose pilot’s chair put some pressure on that. Nevertheless, we were determined to give it a try. Made it downtown in very good time. Traffic actually seemed quite light. Finding parking was a bit of a challenge but we eventually found a spot – I think it was legal! By this time, we had 5 minutes to get to the relay, which was about 10 blocks away. The four of us ran as fast as we could but we arrived a couple of minutes too late. We were in time to see the torch on the big screen as celebrations took place at a local park near False Creek. The place was heaving with people for blocks and blocks. The atmosphere was outstanding and at one point, the crowd broke into a spontaneous rendering of O Canada! Seems to me this place is ready to rock!

Fireworks lit up the night sky and we decided to leave at that point to pick up some tickets at the will call office in Robson Square about 10 minutes away. This is where things went south. The Square has been turned into a celebration base for BC and Canada complete with a skating rink a la Rockefeller Center in New York. The place was teeming with people. It is probably the Vancouver equivalent of Olympic Plaza and you really notice the world has come to play.

Finding the will call office was no easy task. Given that thousands of people have to collect their tickets upon arriving in Vancouver, I was surprised how poor the signage was. Come to think of it, there were no signs. Turns out the ticket will call office is located below street level in a bookstore that has been taken over for this purpose. The ticket windows close at 9.00 pm. We joined the line at 8.25 pm only to be told that we would have no chance of collecting our tickets as we would not get to the front of the line in time. At 9.00 pm, they shut the ticket windows and if you are next in line, too bad – come back tomorrow. We waited in line until the close just in case they decided to serve the few people left waiting to collect their tickets. Nope, at 9.00 pm, they locked up and we were told to come back another day. No easy task given that accessing downtown Vancouver in the day is a real challenge. Oh well, I’ll try again tomorrow before we head off to the opening ceremonies.

Leaving downtown to get to our place outside Horseshoe Bay was easy. Again, very little traffic. Lots of really cool light displays all over the place. It really is festive! We are all looking forward to the opening ceremonies tomorrow and Devon and Logan are really excited that there is an audience participation rehearsal about an hour or so before the real thing starts. They are so excited that they will part of something watched by millions all over the world. Anyway, it’s off to bed for a big day tomorrow. Did I mention it was raining?