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!
What a world we live in. I'm on the bus from Whistler back to Vancouver, on the Sea-to-Sky Highway, surrounded by nothing but pine trees and the occasional vehicle. Somehow, I am managing to maintain an Internet connection via air card. The Olympics may connect the world figuratively, but cell phone towers connect us literally.
These Olympics offer a serious transportation challenge. For instance, today I went to Whistler to cover Lindsey Vonn and Kaylin Richardson in the women's super combined. To get there from Vancouver required taking a train, riding a bus for 2 1/2 hours, getting on another bus, then taking a very high and rather long chairlift up the mountain. Flying through the brisk mountain air on a chairlift at 8 a.m. will wake you up.
I shared the lift with a Russian guy. I think he used all the English he knows when he turned to me and said, "I am freezing my ass off.''
Another bus route has shown us a side of Vancouver that isn't invested in the Olympics. The trip to Pacific Coliseum for figure skating and short-track speedskating goes straight down E. Hastings Ave., through the heart of the Downtown Eastside. This is the original skid row. It's often described as the poorest postal code in Canada, and it's hard to believe there could be another. The buildings are encrusted with grime; the occupied ones have grates across the doors and windows, and the unoccupied ones are boarded up. Long lines of desperate-looking folks wait to get into the methadone clinics and soup kitchens and shelters. Patrick and Laura Plys, parents of curler Chris Plys of Duluth, are staying in Vancouver to work with the poor when the Games are over. That is a noble gesture, and one entirely in line with the Olympic spirit.
Speaking of the curlers ... the men are now 0-4 and the women 0-3. They could use some good mojo from back home.
One final bus story ... The opening ceremonies always dispatch a flood of humanity into the streets, overwhelming any attempt to move them out of the area in an orderly fashion. After the ceremonies here, probably 75,000 people were herded out in one direction, through a downpour. Tens of thousands flowed down Pacific Ave. like a well-behaved protest march (except for the bellowing of the overserved, of which there were many--this is Canada, after all). Volunteers were pointing the way to the nearest train station, which was not near at all. When I got there, the line stretched up the escalator, out the door, around the building and down three city blocks! OK, not taking the train. A taxi, maybe? Eventually, but it required walking many blocks through the party district of Yaletown trying to grab one as the previous occupants were getting out. I did finally get one, but not without learning why Vancouver is referred to as a marijuana-friendly city. I can only imagine how thick those clouds would have been without the rain.
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!
Had a little delay with getting this blog live. But we're all set now, and off we go!
The first few days of an Olympics are largely occupied by two things: getting acclimated, and hitting the parade of press conferences with U.S. athletes. They bring 'em in to the Main Media Centre at the rate of three to six teams per day. It's a chance to catch up with athletes one final time before they start competition.
Women's hockey came in today, and they win the spirit award. All the players were here. Natalie Darwitz, Julie Chu, Jenny Potter and Angela Ruggiero were on the dais, and the rest of them were seated in the front row. Several had flip cams and were recording the whole thing to put on their blogs. (The women's hockey team is WAY into social media, except for coach Mark Johnson. Not only does he not use Twitter, he referred to it as "Tweeter'' in the press conference, cracking up his players.)
Fun things we learned: Gigi Marvin was starstruck at the athletes' village Wednesday night. She met Sandra Oh of Gray's Anatomy (a Canadian citizen who was at the village for a formal opening ceremony) and hung out with the Flying Tomato, snowboarder Shaun White. She's run into a bunch of other Minnesota athletes already, including figure skater Mark Ladwig and speedskater Rebekah Bradford. None of the older players are planning retirement, though all said they will take things year by year. Ruggiero said she doesn't want "to pull a Brett Favre'' and change her mind back and forth. And coach Johnson talked about how in 1980, when he was in Lake Placid to play with the U.S. Miracle on Ice team, players who were scheduled to do interviews had to run to a tent in a parking lot and hope a phone line was available. (When he was talking about "Tweeter,'' he also said: 'Yeah, I can see Herb Brooks doing that.'' Much laughter.)
More fun facts came from Wednesday's curling pressers. Jason Smith and Jeff Isaacson told the media something they will regret: that they sleep in bunk beds in their shared apartment. Oh, man, talk about raw meat to the wolves. Inquiring minds wanted ALL the details, including who slept in which bunk. I was six rows back and could see both of them blushing.
On the subject of accommodations: Both US curling teams managed to get the penthouse suites in their village buildings. Smith and Isaacson report their living room is larger than their apartment back home. (A sign on the building, where units are for sale, said the top price was $6 million. Enjoy it, boys!) The women have already hit the shops to do a little decorating. They've got throw pillows, rugs, all the amenities. Party at their place!
I've also talked to Ladwig, a Moorhead native whom we'll profile for Sunday's paper, and cross country skiers Caitlin Compton and Garrott Kuzzy of Minneapolis. All of our Minnesota athletes have great stories to tell.
As for your correspondent ... Mike Russo and I were the first to arrive Tuesday. I have yet to put on a coat--no kidding! I'm sure that's the last thing you poor frozen ones want to hear. But it does feel very weird to be gearing up for a Winter Games in rain and fog. The volunteers have this great gear--fleece vests, parkas, scarves, etc.--and they look uncomfortably warm.
There is supposed to be heavy rain the next couple of days. Good thing the opening ceremonies are indoors. I'm looking forward to it--it's always a great spectacle. The US athletes will be very sharply dressed.
Weird note of the day: I was watching the morning show on CTV when I was getting ready to head out this morning. On the crawl at the bottom of the screen: "Cartoon pedophile bear mistakenly identified as Olympic mascot by Polish newspaper.'' Weirder yet: This really happened!
Ponder that, folks, and I'll catch up with you later.