Sunday, March 7, 2010

With Glowing Hearts

As the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games glowingly concluded Sunday evening, there's enough energy overflowing from Team Canada's 3-2 overtime victory over Team USA in the gold medal men's ice hockey match to light up the British Columbia province.

Hockey is Canada's national sport, their birthright ~ so you can imagine how important winning the gold medal was to the face of this wonderful North American nation ~ and young Sidney Crosby, who scored the winning goal for Canada, represented the face of these Winter Olympic Games.

It's been a tremendous 17 days and nights of Winter Games in Vancouver in so many ways ~ for so many reasons. I had the privilege of going to these Games wife my wife, Jodi, for six days (from Feb. 16-21), where we rendezvoused with our long-time friends from Seattle and, together, we experienced first-hand thrills of a lifetime ~ victories on ice and in the curling rink; the exciting and fast-paced short track speed skating starring Apolo Anton Ohno; a live taping of "The Colbert Report" in Creekside Park; and graciousness, lots of it, from the host city, Vancouver, and the host country, Canada.

These friendly and polite folks ~ Canadians, eh ~ are sports fans just like us. Oh, sure, their English may sound a bit funny at times (pronouncing words like about a-BOOT), but their voice and diction is superb; and they showed their patriotism in the form of wearing their Team Canada hockey sweaters (what we refer to as jerseys they call sweaters) all about town ~ some wore white, most wore red, but they all rallied about their national symbol, the maple leaf, and many draped themselves in national flags resembling capes and shawls.

Canadians also love to play funny games and eat funny food ~ to wit, curling and poutine (medium-cut fries topped with cheese curds and smothered in brown gravy). Yet, that's the spirit of these Canadians and what makes visiting Canada uniquely inviting. And, Canadians ~ both fans and athletes alike ~ love to sing their national anthem, "Oh, Canada" if you give them a chance. During the medals ceremony following their gold medal hockey victory, every player on Team Canada joined the fans in attendance in singing "Oh, Canada" loud and proud. It was a very proud moment in this country's history ~ and, not surprisingly, the gold medal game between Canada and the U.S. was the most-watched TV program in Canadian history.

So many things stood out from my visit to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games, which I plan to blog further about in the near future. In the meantime, in no particular order here's a short list of five:

1. Robson Square ~ In downtown Vancouver, corner of Robson and Granville streets, where a sense of international community could be found day and night, whether watching the Games on a large-screen video display, trading pins or skating at the outdoor public rink. Robson Square captured the spirit of the Olympics ~ it was Ground Zero for the celebration following Team Canada's gold medal hockey victory over the U.S. ~ and it's where we lucked into seeing a skating exhibition by the gold medal Chinese pairs Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo just two days after they won gold.

2. Efficient light-rail transportation ~ We lodged in suburban Coquitlam, about a 45-minute train ride from downtown Vancouver. So, we became quite experienced in riding the rails each day ~ and it allowed us to gain a feel for the surrounding area as well as to see the snow-capped mountains north of the city. We rode free on days we had Olympic event tickets. On days we had to pay, fares were reasonable, all-day passes were available, and the honor system prevailed ~ and, best of all, I don't think we ever had to wait more than 3-5 minutes on a platform for a train.

3. Canadian TV coverage on CTV and TSN networks ~ After watching CTV and TSN Olympics coverage on Canadian television for six days, it made me yearn for more of it when I returned home. Unlike NBC, we weren't bombarded with commercials every five minutes and major events such as figure skating and alpine skiing were allowed to be shown in its entirety. Whereas NBC's coverage of the Olympics was that of a prime-time dramatic mini-series with hints of a reality series, CTV and TSN's approach was to cover the Olympics as a sporting event complete with lots of live coverage throughout the day. It makes me wish that some day our own ESPN will gain the U.S. broadcast rights to the Olympics because they will approach the Olympics as a major international sporting event and not as a prime-time drama.

4. Canadian currency ~ With the exchange rate essentially 1:1, I didn't worry about figuring in my head the cost of everything in U.S. dollars. What I did like ~ and wish we would adopt in the States ~ is the use of dollar (loony) and two dollar (toony) coins. Canadian paper currency starts at the five-dollar bill.

5. The sport of curling ~ Next to hockey, curling is a sport near and dear to Canadians and they take it seriously ~ and cheer appreciatively ~ especially when the Canadian Olympians are on the rink. One of the events we attended was an afternoon session of women's curling at an intimate make-shift arena in a residential area south of downtown ~ four matches being played simultaneously on side-by-side rectangular rinks, including: Canada vs. Germany, Japan vs. China, Great Britain vs. Russia and the U.S. vs. Denmark.

Think part shuffleboard, part darts, part bowling and you've got the sport of curling.

The Canada-Germany match was closest to us and we were surrounded by a spirited bunch of Canadian fans, ages 6 to 60. Quickly, I came to appreciate the skill and determination of the 43-year-old Canadian skip Cheryl Bernard. Showing both quiet determination, beauty and charm, she's the one who, while down on one knee, put "the stone" in play by rolling it down the rink and letting her sweepers guide it toward "the house" (the bull's eye). Steady under pressure was Ms. Bernard throughout the competition.

One thing I learned from my afternoon at the curling rink: there's a bit of luck involved and a lot of skill that goes into playing the sport well. And the women competitors aren't afraid to yell "hard, hard, harder!"

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