I have been living a charmed life here in Vancouver this past week. Despite the logistical enormity of negotiating a city in the midst of such a massive undertaking, nearly every detail of my meticulously planned Olympic schedule has fallen into place. Only one snafu stands in the way of perfection.
Shortly after arriving in Vancouver, I received word from VANOC that my Category B general admission tickets to the women’s ski-cross finals had been cancelled. Lack of snow at the Cypress venue had rendered the ground unstable. I was extremely disappointed to lose the opportunity to attend this premier event, where the first-ever Olympic medals would be handed out in this adrenalin-fuelled “extreme” sport. It was doubly upsetting because Canada had a powerful quartet of women qualified for the event and there was a very real possibility of a podium finish. Scalpers, although legal and ubiquitous across Vancouver, were coming up empty.
These thoughts ran through my head as I took my seat for the women’s hockey semi-final between Sweden and the USA. I perused Craigslist absent-mindedly on my BlackBerry and found a posting for a pair of Category A tickets to the event.
Although the general admission tickets had been cancelled, the event was continuing and those with reserved grandstand seating would be able to attend. I dialed the California number, not getting my hopes up that I would be able to close the deal in time for the event only 15 hours away.
A woman answered the phone. She was shouting that she couldn’t hear me over the roar of the crowd as she was at a hockey game. My hockey game. Two sections away from me. And she had the tickets in her pocket.
Giddy with glee, I arranged to meet my guardian angel at the first intermission. Due to weather delays, the men’s giant slalom had been delayed and her ski-cross tickets now conflicted. She’s not a scalper. She just wanted to get her face-value back. I wanted to kiss her. I watched as the U.S. demolished Sweden, and then stuck around to see Team Canada’s women steamroll Finland, gently caressing my newly acquired ski-cross tickets all the while.
Early the next morning, I boarded the bus from Capilano University for the ride to Cypress. In bitter cold and driving snow (yes — snow for the very first time in these Olympics), I watched as Canadian Ashleigh McIvor dispatched one competitor after the other until, after four hours, she leaped across the finish line to claim the gold. I raced back to the city, coaxing the feeling to return to my fingers and toes and arrived at BC Place in time for the formal victory celebration, where the sweet sounds of O Canada filled the stadium. It was the perfect finish to a spectacular week at these Olympic Games.
For decades, it has been a tradition for the IOC Chairman to bestow the accolade “Best Games Ever” upon the host city at the closing Olympic ceremonies. Whether Jacques Rogge will anoint Vancouver with this customary accolade on Sunday is unknown, but the city certainly has given itself much to be proud of.
If one wanted to nitpick, it would be easy to cast a negative light on Vancouver’s stumbles and missteps. The British press, led by The Guardian, have delighted in just such a pastime, seemingly blind to the titanic undertaking facing their hometown in the lead-up to London’s 2012 Games. And yet, any dispassionate observer who has spent a modest time on the ground here in Vancouver and Whistler, would be hard-pressed to walk away from these Games without being astounded at the remarkable feat that has been accomplished.
A country spanning the breadth between oceans, sparsely populated by a meagre 33 million people, transformed a city in the midst of the warmest winter in over a century into a playground of snow and ice that played host to the world. Where a typical day in Vancouver would see traffic grind to a gridlocked halt, the streets were remarkably easy to navigate between events. The army of volunteers that VANOC amassed took the reins of a massive fleet of buses along with a significantly bolstered subway system and successfully transported millions of additional passengers across the Vancouver-Whistler-Cypress expanse without even a hiccup — and smiling all the while. In my week at the Olympics, although being almost entirely reliant on public transit, I was never late for a single event. Foreign journalists, tourists and athletes’ families with whom I chatted over this past week showered praise upon Vancouver and on their affable and rambunctious Canadian hosts.
Indeed, a wave of distinctly un-Canadian patriotism gripped this city. The red and white draped every balcony, street corner and pedestrian. Spontaneous renditions of O Canada broke out on the Sky Train, in restaurants and at bars. The sense of pride, joy, and camaraderie permeated every street. The Bay’s Olympic Mega Store opened 24 hours a day on weekends to deal with the lines of people desperate to wear anything that said “Canada” on it. The anticipated protests fizzled within the first two days, never to reappear, and the unprecedented security apparatus assembled here somehow managed to feel almost friendly rather than oppressive.
Whether Dr. Rogge utters those three fateful words that every Canadian hopes to hear on Sunday night, I am prepared to dispense with hyperbole and stretch my neck out for Vancouver 2010 — Best Games Ever. GO CANADA GO!!!