The Olympics is a celebration of the world's greatest athletes and yet a competition amongst nations. It unites the world, yet also evokes rivalry. It is a time when glory, honor, and prestige fill the news, yet also scandal and injury inevitably resonate through the headlines. This year, Vancouver plays host to the 2010 Winter Olympics and as Seattle is just a hop, skip, and a jump away, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to visit this Olympic host city. Controversy, rivalry, and competition aside - the Olympics is a once in a lifetime experience for many athletes and spectators alike.
With just over two million residents, Vancouver is one of the most populated cities to host the Winter Olympics. Driving into the city however, one would never suspect that this bustling port city was playing host to one of the worlds most esteemed events. Border crossings were a breeze, traffic non existent, and road closures were kept to a minimum. It felt like any typical day in the city.
Late in the day however, this all changed. As streets were roped off, bars and clubs began to open, and suddenly the streets were filled with thousands of people. Live broadcast from nearly every restaurant, storefront, and Olympic venue was Times Square style footage of the Games. No matter where you were, the eruption of applause to a Canadian win was distinguishable. Tucked inside a Starbucks, cradling a warm beverage, the tables would practically vibrate with the sounds of cheering from the streets outside. It was everything but calm. The chaos in the streets was fueled by a constant outpouring of alcohol from the hundreds of sports clubs and liquor stores that lined the Olympic hub of Robson Street.
Canadian pride was instantly recognizable. From the balconies of hundreds of homes, the iconic maple leaf was hung with pride. The streets were filled with swarms of people donning flags, face paint, and Canada emblazoned clothing. Of course there were also the much sought after woolen red mittens that the majority were sporting.
As I took in the quintessential Olympic sights, I tried to kept my sightseeing at these venues to a minimum. The crowds were difficult to navigate and the results did not always live up to the hype. Chain link fence surrounding the Olympic Cauldron prevented anyone from getting close and in order to get an unobstructed view, a wait of up to two hours was necessary.
Entering the Olympic Superstore was completely out of the question as the stagnant line was constantly wrapped around several large city blocks.
One of my favorite experiences was watching the Vectorial Elevation light show from Sunset Beach. This artfully done light display was reminiscent of the Bellagio fountains sans music.
Also, the view from Stanley Park proved to be worth all the hassle of getting there. Looking out over the ocean, the Vancouver skyline complete with the Olympic Rings was stunning.
Although work prevented me from watching the games live, I still managed to make it to a Victory Ceremony at BC Place. It is here that each night the Gold, Silver, and Bronze champions gather to receive their medals to the thunderous applause of thousands of spectators. As the athletes were championed the victors in their field, a sense of overwhelming excitement swelled in the stadium. When the athletes cried, fist pumped, and shouted out their victory, their pride was practically tangible. Although I knew little about the competitors, I couldn't help feeling proud as Shaun White and Scott Lago received the Gold and Silver medals in Men's Halfpipe for the United States. As the National Anthem played and the flags were raised, citizens of all countries stood with honor for the winning athletes. Nothing would compare however to the surging commotion of the crowd as Christine Nesbitt took home the Gold for Canada in the Ladies' 1000 meter Speed Skate. As the majority of spectators were Canadian, the crowd erupted in a cacophony of cheers as their own reigned supreme.
Men's Halfpipe Winners
The United States National Anthem plays for Shaun White and Scott Lago
So between the crowds of tourists, the hoards of crazy sports fanatics, and the drunkeness of Robson Street, would I attend a future Olympic Games? Without a doubt. Every line, every crowd, and every passed out drunk person I had to step over was worth it. In fact looking back, these are not really the experiences which stand out in my mind. Instead I find myself holding fast to the memories of navigating the suburbs of the city where locals gathered in the parks to celebrate a Canadian win, the sea of red Canada themed clothing that was found in every corner of the city, the chatter of diverse languages on the street, and the small cafes on Granville Island which offered up Olympics themed menus. These are the moments I will savor. Yes, competition an rivalry persisted, but for me, I found the uniting of unique and varied cultures at the forefront of the Olympic Games.