Guest post by Mermaid!
Last weekend my husband and I had the immense pleasure of spending three days in Whistler attending a number of Olympic events. We arrived with our mandatory cheering outfits – including jackets with the Canada flag, red wool mittens and red toques complete with a maple leaf.
Our first event was Ski Jumping and we arrived with hours to spare. We had expected long lines for bus and security, but in fact everything was remarkably efficient. To fill the hours before the jumping start, we wandered around the venue, convinced ourselves that a morning treat of a hotdog was the healthiest option available and just enjoyed watching the crowd. The announcers kept us entertained with information about the sport and stories about the competitors. The crowd was ready to cheer. Just look at all that red. Who would have expected that I would be underdressed?
Ski jumping is crazy. These men hurl themselves down a hill at ~90km/hour and then fly through the air for ~100 m. Check out the man flying below. He appears as a tiny speck against the long landing field. The red lines mark 95 and 105 meters. Most people land between the lines. The leader after this round landed at 109 meters, way past the line onto the flatter part of the course. The trick is to jump far but land with style. Judges award points for style and it isn’t always the farthest jumper that wins.
When jumping, these guys are basically flying squirrels. They are all arms and legs and baggy pants. Apparently, there are regulations on minimum body fat and maximum clothing bagginess. One poor guy got sent home for having pants that were too baggy. Imagine having to explain to your country and sponsors that you couldn’t compete because your pants were too big.
Friday night we joined several hundred other people in the town centre to watch the opening ceremonies. It was amazing! Enormous video screens were playing the opening ceremonies, and there were local live hosts that added their own content. The highlight was our own personal parade of athletes, with all Canadian athletes who chose to skip the Vancouver ceremonies coming onstage to the adoration and cheering from the crowd. The Whistler Children’s Choir led the crowd in singing our national anthem. Everyone sang. Even I sang. I haven’t sung in public since my two year old niece very sweetly asked me to stop singing her lullabies – this should give you some idea how moving the moment was. I know that people in Vancouver at the actual ceremony participated in something special. However, I would not have traded this moment for anything.
Athletes in their parade.
Tight security keeping fans a reasonable distance away. Note inclusion of a mountie in the picture for the delight of Cath.
Saturday started disappointing, with the postponement of the Men’s Downhill race which was the event we were most excited for. We ended up going to the village for lunch and staying for nearly 5 hours, just walking around and enjoying the crowd. Everywhere you looked there were video screens showing the games, bands and groups working the crowds, and just huge numbers of people, all supporting their favourite country. I loved the group of Swiss supporters who were dressed as cows with their faces painted in flags – wearing real Swiss cowbells around their necks. The Polish contingent was very strong too – lots of horns and good natured cheering. I have been in Whistler when it was crowded before, but I have never seen such a good natured group.
Huge screens at the lifts showing live events.
5 piece drum band working the crowd
People everywhere. The town centre complete with stage and screens.
The final day was the final 2 runs of the Luge. I thought the jumping was crazy, but the Luge is insane. Luge athletes are insane. These are people who strap on full body skates, protect themselves in lycra and helment and hurl themselves down a steep tube of ice at over 140 km/hour, a speed that scares me when comfortable in a car with seatbelts and air bags. I was saddened by the death of the athlete earlier in the week and have great sympathy for his family….….but this is NOT a safe sport. To give you an idea of how fast 140 km/hour really is, check out the video below. 12 seconds of video, with ~11.8 seconds of grey ice and a flash of color as the rider flies by. As a spectator, you mostly you watch the screen and wait for the luge move onto the portion of curve where you can see him. It is insane. Great fun to watch and definitely more impressive in person than on TV. But still insane. I don’t even want to think of how insane Skeleton athletes are.
The Luge was the end of my weekend in Whistler. There is no way to accurately describe the experience. I can only hope that everyone who had the chance to watch an event had as great a time as we did. If I ever get the opportunity again, I am taking more time off and going to more events. I can’t complain, however, as my next event is the Men’s Hockey: USA vs Canada. I think I need to wear more Maple Leafs (Leaves?).