February 12, 2010. After 2,400 days of buildup, anticipation, fatigue, and anxiety, the Olympics had finally arrived in Vancouver. Yet the sense of reality, the feeling that the wait was actually over, lagged far behind the pace set by the countdown clock. The torch was in Vancouver, but the Games still felt distant.
While I had been looking forward to the Olympics since Vancouver was announced as host, in the last days leading up to the opening ceremonies, a feeling of anxiety had slowly eclipsed my excitement. All I hoped of the games was for Vancouver and Canada to not embarrass ourselves. So far things we’re looking good with the facilities and with the overal ‘Look of the Games’. As yet we had managed to avoid any serious cock-ups.
I was up early on this most anticipated of days, watching the torch relay on television. I had planned on heading out to get some photos of the relay, but I knew that the torch was going to criss-cross the city throughout most of the day and I was procrastinating.
When I heard that a very special surprise bearer was going to be receiving the torch and passing two blocks from my home, I anticipated another Matt Lauer or Michael Bublé. My motivation to capture such a moment for posterity did not overcome my considerable morning inertia.
However, when Walter Gretzky stepped out of the torch bearer’s mini-bus and the crowd erupted with cheering, I leapt into my clothes, snatched my camera, and flew out the door.
I arrived at Granville and Smithe and chose my spot. The torch had not yet passed to Mr. Gretzky, so I had a few minutes to take in the scene. The streets were definitely buzzing, but so far the torch escort was a bit of overkill for the amount of crowd-control needed.
Before long, Walter was passed the flame, and began his walk down Granville Street, escorted by the olympic flame security detail. The relatively sparse crowd was cheering calmly but enthusiastically, a mere golf clap in comparison to what was to come.
An unexpected detour down the Granville pedestrian mall took the flame behind the barriers separating the relay route from the spectators. Along with a few dozen others, I spontaneously fell in with Gretzky. Some were following behind, glad be part of an Olympic Torch parade with a Canadian cultural icon as Grand Marshal. Many, like me, were recording the moment, leapfrogging from perch to perch trying to get a good shoot of a memorable moment.
Soon after, the flame had been passed to the next bearer. Gretzky no longer held aloft the Olympic Flame, but he did still hold the attention and adoration of a swarm of enthusiastic fans. Without the score of bodyguards (flameguards?), he quickly found himself in the centre of friendly mob.
He stood amid a forest of arms, the branches host to a flock of twittering and chirping cameras, the cellphones and digi cams flashing colourfully, chattering noisily for attention, the huge broadcast cameras sitting silently, unblinking in owl-like observance.
In the kind natural class that doesn’t come from any sort of practiced charm, Gretzky answered questions humbly for the media and laughed and chatted amiably with the enthusiastic crowd. As he was gracefully extracted by the relay support staff from what could have been an all-day engagement, it was clear that he was genuinely enjoying the moment as much as the spectators.
It was a special moment. That morning I was a somewhat apprehensive, slightly detached Olympic enthusiast, but an hour later I had found myself literally running to keep pace with events. I wasn’t alone either; it seemed that the crowds were deepening with each step of the torch bearers.
The Flame continued through the city, facilitated by the practiced routine of the torch relay team. While one team was prepping the next torch bearer with last minute instructions, another was behind the flame, providing after care which included removing the fuel bottle from the torch.
The smoothness at which the operation was proceeding certainly boded well for the coming endeavour. By this point the wispy corona of fear I felt was far over-shone by the excitement of the day.
Everywhere were enthusiasts, people excited to witness, not just the Olympic Flame, but also each other, each sharing a curious feeling of participation mixed with their celebration, together creating an atmosphere which would come to embody the magic of these games.
As the procession continued, it became apparent that, far from overkill, the considerable torch escort was barely enough to contain the massing crowds. It was as if Downtown Vancouver had shut down to watch the Olympics come to town. Men in business suits streamed from office buildings and ran like excited children to find a spot from which to watch.
The crowds spilled off the sidewalks, each person vying for a sightline, filling every available square foot of asphalt, encroaching ever further upon the torch’s path, together transforming the six-lane thoroughfare that was Georgia Street into a buzzing mass of onlookers.
Clinging to light-poles, teetering on tip-toes, and watching through viewfinders, the crowd anxiously strained for a view of the torchbearer, each glimpse cementing the reality of the moment, a moment of participation in something unique.
The flame marched on through the city, each step adding to the momentum built by the preceding 12,000 torchbearers, each handoff igniting fires in the eyes of those watching, in the flame’s wake a conflagration of passion and pride that was to engulf the entire city, the entire country.
Before the first medal was awarded, before the first competition had taken place, and even before the Opening Ceremonies, the arrival of the torch to Vancouver brought the Olympics home for me. The wait was over, the games were here, and all indications suggested that they were about to exceed my wildest hopes.
I've been a bit... preoccupied of late. I've been watching the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs and have been far too consumed with wins, losses, and playoff beard growth to write anything coherent. The playoffs are not quite over, tomorrow we'll be playing Game 6 of the Finals, but before then, I'd like to share some thoughts. Specifically, I'd like to talk about goaltending. As a hockey fan and hockey player who
As the 2010-2011 NHL Regular Season draws to a close, fans of the Vancouver Canucks have a lot to cheer for. Vancouver's 40th anniversary in the NHL has been a superlative year in most respects, the team smashing club record after club record, winning for the first time the President's Trophy by finishing as the best team in the league, and perhaps most importantly, being the odds-on favourite to win