Monday, February 15, 2010

Live From Vancouver ... It's Brother Blog

Every now and then, TigerBlog turns over the forum to someone with something to say. In the past, it's been a former member of TigerBlog HQ who relates a current view of the athletic world back to the time spent at Princeton.

Today, TB gave the keys to BrotherBlog, who attended Friday night's Opening Ceremonies for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

First, let TB give you a little background on BrotherBlog. The older brother by two years, BrotherBlog is a lawyer in Seattle. Like MotherBlog, BB used to somewhat nomadic. While TigerBlog has lived his entire life in a 40 mile radius of HQ, BrotherBlog has lived literally around the world, at various times calling Cape Cod, China, Washington, D.C. and Western Massachusetts home before settling in Seattle.

To say that BB is not quite the biggest sports fan in the world would be an understatement. There have been many years where TigerBlog has had to clue BB in on, oh, which two teams were playing in the Super Bowl, for instance. When TB told BB that TigerBlog Jr. was playing lacrosse or football or something, BB said something along the lines of "that's nice." When TB told BB that Little Miss TigerBlog was in a local community theater production of "Meet Me In St. Louis," BB's response was that he'd just seen a production in Seattle of the same show.

BrotherBlog made the short drive to Vancouver for the start of the Winter Olympics, and he has tickets for future events, including the curling gold medal match. And, since BB wrote this, Alexandre Bilodeau won the men's mogul skiing, giving Canada that elusive first gold medal on its home turf.

And so, TigerBlog will push back his planned entry entitled "Jadwin Comes Alive" for one day, and Princeton athletics will take a back seat here today to a more global view of sports, a first-hand account from the streets of Vancouver for the Winter Olympics.

And with that, BrotherBlog’s Olympic Dispatch:

What was the Vancouver Olympic Opening Ceremonies like? There was red. Lots and lots of red. With maple leaves. And Wayne Gretsky. But I’ll get to that in a moment.

When you live in Seattle, going to Vancouver, British Columbia, is no big deal. It’s roughly two hours to the border, some time spent at the border, and then 35 or 40 minutes into Vancouver. The “some time spent at the border” is the wild card, especially since 9/11. (Not that the Canadians began that. More like they followed the Americans on that one.) Nevertheless, “some time spent at the border” could be minutes to hours. On this day, Friday, February 12, 2010, the opening day of Canada’s third Olympics, the first sign that things were different was that all nine or 10 border check booths were open, and there was not another car in sight. We made it through in two minutes. This was going to be a day like no other.

We got to Vancouver at 11, took our hosts to lunch downtown, and wandered around before going to B.C. Place, where the Opening Ceremonies would be held. Completely by accident, we wandered into the Olympic torch relay. It was kind of like those flash mob demonstrations put together by text message. As we walked down the street (to pick up tickets for Latvia-Slovakia men’s hockey next weekend), more and more people started pouring into the street. Even the firefighters were clued in. They were on the top of their fire engines, with their cameras. All of the sudden the crowd let out a yell, and in the distance you could see the flame. And seemingly in an instant, the relay went by us. It was done, and the mob dispersed.

That tells you something about the Canadians. They tend to be pretty matter of fact. Until the torch appeared on the street, it was quiet. Just folks milling about, talking in regular tones. Then, all of the sudden, here’s the torch. Here’s the crowd. Here’s a yell as the one torch lights another. And then it’s gone. Everyone back to work. If this had been New York or Los Angeles, every mile of the relay would have been a spectacle. With vendors. Not here. We had just been part of history—the longest torch run in the Winter Olympics, spanning the entire country of Canada (and there’s lots of it)—and in a flash, it was “Everyone, as you were.”

After picking up the hockey tickets, we made our way to B.C. Place for the Opening Ceremonies. More like strolled. B.C. Place is an urban stadium. It’s off to the east of downtown. We just walked over. Apparently no private cars are being allowed near the venues. But here, we would not have used them. It was just so close.

The papers said that airport-style security would begin at 2 pm, and that spectators should be in their seats at 5 pm for rehearsal, and 6 pm start time. Rehearsal? Whatever that is. Anyway, because of threat of demonstrations (which we heard later kind of fizzled), we went close to the opening. So did many people. Again, it was quiet. Orderly. No pushing. Just making our way through security to the stadium decorated with big white, blue and green Olympic posters in English and French.

When we got to our seats (20 rows from the stage—that’s never going to happen again in my lifetime), we noticed that each seat had an octagonal-shaped box coded for the seat number. First I thought it was just souvenirs, like I’d heard about at the Oscars. Not exactly. These were going to be the props for the audience participation part of the program. There was a flashlight with a certain color to be stars to augment the performance, a flashlight candle for one of the performers, a Canadian flag (of course), and a drumstick. The octagonal box was a foot across in all directions and served as a drum for certain parts of the show. Oh, yes, there was the gray hospital gown-type poncho to make sure the colored lighting reflected off us and created the visual effect for snow and winter light. (Ultimately, the drum proved to be the most useful, because when the crowd went wild, all you heard was the thump, thump, thump on those octagonal boxes.)

While we did reconnaissance around B.C. Place before 5 pm, we saw the crowd swell. That’s where the red came in. Red hats. Red scarves. Red maple leafs. Most importantly, red hockey jerseys. Lots of those. There was even a silent auction going on with jerseys and hockey sticks. The Canadians are making their third attempt to win gold on their home turf, and people have their minds on two sports: hockey and curling. As a Canadian newscaster said, the first Canadian athlete to win gold in Vancouver will become a folk legend.

What can I say about what happened from 6 to 9 pm? If you have ever seen any Olympic Opening Ceremonies before, you know that it is a combination of two things: the “show” as a representation of all that the host country has to offer, and patriotism, as the cheers swell for each country’s athletes. As for the show, if you watched it on television, you know that the Canadians put on a great performance about their heritage (the four First Nations), about their culture, and about the beauty that is British Columbia. Although they had acrobatics that rivaled (or were borrowed from) Montreal’s Cirque du Soleil, it was not a gaudy, over the top Las Vegas revue. Nor was it Beijing with 8,000 drummers in complete unison. No, this was Canada, celebrating its national pride in its own way. Dancers showing individuality in their exuberance. Singers such as Sarah Mclachlan, kd lang, Bryan Adams and Nelly Furtado adding to the score. An aerialist moving to the sounds of Joni Mitchell.

As for the patriotism, this is not a mixed feeling of patriotism that you get when you weigh your country’s actions with your personal sentiments. This is an uncomplicated sense of patriotism. You truly hope that the young people representing your country will do amazing feats on the world stage. It swells in you as you see your country’s flag carried by its athletes on foreign soil. You then see other American flags in the audience and you realize you are not alone. And, as the parade of athletes finished, the screams and drumbeats reached crescendo for the last three countries: United States, Uzbekistan, and Canada (the host). (Okay, probably Uzbekistan got a bump because of placement, but we’ll give it to them.)

That’s when you realize it’s different being there. When you are there, you feel the power of the voices in the stadium all coming together. And you realize that you are thousands of voices at ground zero for something that 3.5 billion people worldwide are watching. You are part of a moment. A historic moment. That realization is amazing.

And if that was not enough, the Olympic torch, which I had just seen on the street several hours before, caught up with me again. It was handed off finally to Wayne Gretzky, the Canadian hockey God, who lit the cauldron for the games to begin. Again the crowd went wild. No matter that one of the “legs” for the cauldron didn’t rise on cue. For us watching it live at B.C. Place, the evening was a truly magnificent moment.


Anonymous said...

Great job by BrotherBlog. He should give up being a lawyer and go into sportswriting. Ask him how the death of the luger impacted the feeling at the opening ceremonies?

BrotherBlog said...

His death was announced before the ceremony and there was a moment of
silence during the ceremony. The Georgians marched with black
armbands and got a big ovation, which was confusing. Generally most
people there didn't have any details about the accident because we had
gone thru security so early.

R Nicotera said...

Will anyone be at the Womens luge runs tonight??