Wow, this closing ceremony rocks. The opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics are always so different from one another; the opening is more about tradition and restraint, and the closing is just one massive party.
The closing always makes me melancholy. I'm such a fan of the Olympics; there is no other sporting event like it. It always feels sad when they take down the Olympic flag and extinguish the flame. This grand two weeks we anticipated for so long, that athletes worked toward for four years, is over. You just want it to go on forever.
The Canadians did themselves so proud with these Games. They were warm and welcoming. They seemed truly happy to have Vancouver overrun with thousands of people from all over the planet. They loved their athletes so, whether they medaled or not; sometimes they loved the ones who didn't medal even more. (The hockey teams would be the only exception to that.) Their national spirit was so stirring. This will be a hard act to follow.
Speaking of ... the next Winter Games will be in an even warmer place. It was 66 degrees a couple of days ago in Sochi, Russia, a resort town on the Russian Riviera that will host the 2014 Games. Sochi's climate is classified as "humid sub-troplcal'' ... seriously. It's known for its palm trees ... seriously. Apparently the mountains are pretty close to the coast and rise very steeply. It's a very remote city, more than 20 hours by train from Moscow. It will be interesting to see how the Russians handle those Games and how challenged they will be by the sagging global economy. I imagine Putin will be strongarming lots of people to get everything in place.
For now, I'm just enjoying the fabulous pageant of Canadiana. With tongue firmly in cheek, they've filled a stage with giant moose balloons guided by lumberjacks; dancing Mounties; Quebecois voyageurs in birchbark canoes; giant table-hockey players on wheels chasing a little kid dressed like a puck; and Michael Buble crooning "The Maple Leaf Forever.'' Gotta love a country that is secure enough to laugh at itself and invite the rest of the world to share the fun. Thanks and au revoir!
Did that get your attention? I'm sure a second blog post in one day will register with my editor. I only wrote one story today, the U.S.-Sweden women's hockey semifinal. If I don't do at least two blog posts, I'll feel like a slacker.
One of the more interesting news items of recent days has been the draining of the German Fan Fest beer tent in downtown Vancouver, near the train station. I usually pass by it at night. There is always a very long line. Seems the Germans ordered 25,000 liters of beer to last the entire Olympics. That was gone by Saturday, according to a story in the Vancouver Sun. They flew in 5,000 more liters of Kostritzer Pilsner and black lager from Germany to make sure no one goes thirsty. And that's not even the biggest-drinking venue! The Sun says 100,000 liters will be served at Canada Hockey House (big surprise there) and 80,000 at Holland Heineken House, usually one of the more alcohol-soaked spots at any Games. The Dutch love to party.
Speaking of the Dutch ... they have taken over the suburb of Richmond, where the speedskating oval is. Richmond is populated mostly by Asian-Canadians and Asian immigrants. The Dutch are tooling all around town on bicycles and handing out orange mittens to fans heading to speedskating. They are so fun-loving and so into the Olympics. You can't help but smile when you see them! And because they all wear that bright orange, you can't miss 'em.
As I finish up at hockey, I'm watching ice dancing on TV. I agree that the costumes have gone off the edge. I understand the showmanship and all, but they shouldn't detract from the skating, and some of these do. The skaters would be better served by more elegance and less flakiness.
The Russians sneaked in for third, bumping the U.S, duo of Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto out of the medals. There has been talk that Evgeni Plushenko's whining about not winning the men's competition--and the moaning from all of Mother Russia--might push the judges to be generous with scoring for the Russian dancers. The new system is supposed to prevent that kind of stuff, but it isn't foolproof. Will be interesting to hear the expert analysis on this.
Great, lively crowd at Canada Hockey Place today for the women's hockey semifinals. The Canadians are still smarting from their loss to the Americans in men's hockey on Sunday; seems they all found some Swedish roots overnight. Their people were bellowing for the Swedes throughout the US-Sweden semifinal.
But the Americans had cheeseheads! The family of U.S. defenseman Molly Engstrom, from Siren, Wis., arrived in full cheddar regalia. They had cheese-wedge hats with American flags stuck in them. They had cheese top hats. They weren't hard to spot in their primo seats, lower level across from the U.S. bench. The in-house TV crew stopped by for an intermission interview, punctuated by a cry of "On, Wisconsin!'' from Molly's brother Chris.
The U.S. women watched the men's game against Canada from a variety of vantage points. Some were at the game, some stayed in their apartments to rest for their own game and watched on TV. Afterward, U.S. defenseman Caitlin Cahow rode in an elevator at the Olympic Village with our own Zach Parise. She said he looked like a 10-year-old boy who just put on a pair of skates for the first time. It was obvious the women were jazzed by what the guys pulled off. Seeing a Canadian team beaten at home in this atmosphere is a huge emotional boost. As Vetter said, "We know our guys did it. Now we've got to back it up.''
Cahow took stitches in a knee during the game, after blocking a shot just before Sweden scored. She played a tremendous game, as did the entire American lineup. Erika Lawler--the five-foot-tall forward--was constantly in the center of the action. The Lamoureux twins were fabulous; three goals for Monique, two assists for Jocelyne. Three goals and two assists from the defensemen.
Vetter didn't see much action, which could be a little worrisome for the Americans in the final. Sweden only managed 12 shots, and few of them were tough saves. Her calm, though, will help her against Canada. She said she actually likes a loud crowd, even if it's not in her corner. That's a gamer.
Sweden did give them a good battle through the first 30 minutes or so--just what the U.S. needed. The Finns fought Canada hard, too. The Gophers' Noora Raty made a bunch of nice saves while seeing 50 shots. By the way, think the Gophers miss her? They're 1-4-1 since she's been with Team Finland.
Lots of WCHA connections in these games. Sweden has three former Minnesota Duluth players: Maria Rooth, Erika Holst and goalie Kim Martin, who looked nowhere near as sharp today as she did when she stole a semifinal victory for the Swedes over the U.S. in the 2006 Olympics. Defenseman Emilia Andersson plays for Minnesota State Mankato. Thirteen of the Americans are from WCHA schools. The Finns have Raty, Saara Tuominen from UMD, Mankato forward Nina Tikkinen and the former Ohio State star Emma Laaksonen. It's great for the women's game to have these international players develop in the American college system and take that knowledge back home.
Wide range of opinions on who will win Thursday. Raty likes the U.S. Her coach, Pekka Hamalainen, said he'd put money on Canada. Finland forward Michelle Karvinen picks the Americans.
It should be a great game with perhaps the best atmosphere ever for a women's hockey event. I can't wait!
If you are watching, you're among more than a billion people worldwide expected to tune in. I always love the pageantry of the opening ceremonies. It is like nothing else in sports. We don't get many opportunities in the modern world to drop all the baggage and just celebrate as a human race. I always find this such a thrilling spectacle, even if it's indoors for the first time ever (in BC Place, which resembles the Metrodome!)
The media is in section 205, about halfway up in the lower bowl. If you're looking at the main stage--the one that looke like it's being held up by icicles--we're on the right. See me waving?
The Parade of Athletes has just begun. The Czech Republic is about to come in, with hockey player Jaromir Jagr carrying the flag. It's nice to see some NHL players and veterans marching in the opening. The pros often don't show for this.
What a range of emotions today. If you saw the crash of the Georgian luger who was killed in training this morning, you can understand why 500 people collectively gasped when it was shown on the TVs in the media centre. It is a heartbreaking tragedy that moved many people to tears; the connectedness of Olympic athletes, officials, and fans really comes through in moments like these. The seven other Georgians are coming into the stadium now ... the entire place stood for them. You can see their anguish on their faces. Godspeed.
I'll check in again later. Enjoy the show!