Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Vancouver - Take 10

Four Days to go.

For over a week the weather has been great - warm and clear blue skies.  Vancouver and Whistler must have scored a lot of points with the media and the tourists.  On the weekend, the Skytrains were full with thousands of tourists and residents taking in the sites, the performances, and the fireworks.  The rain has returned but the party atmosphere continues.

Attending the curling events (most involving Canadian teams) has been a blast.  Canada won all the games I attended and after Canada won their match, support moved to one of the other matches still in progress.  I think many around wondered where we were from since we were willing to join any of the other "national" chants.  In fact, it did not matter who was playing the place rocked!

Since my first hockey game between Canada and Norway, all the games I have seen involved Latvia.  In support of a fellow Osprey, I felt I had to cheer for Latvia.  I am afraid my support did not help.  Latvia lost both games, one to the Republic of Czech and the other to Slovakia.  Even though Latvia lost, both games were closer than one would have expected.

On Sunday (February 21), I took the bus to the Whistler Sliding Centre and saw the final two runs of the two man bobsleigh.  After Canada 1 crashed on run 2, there was no chance of them getting to the podium.  However, Canada 2 did well - coming in 5th.  Having seen the bobsleigh up close, I would love a chance to try it.  I think it might be too risky to let Graham drive but riding brakeman could be quite an experience.

On February 23 and 24, it was my chance to see long track speed skating.  There may have been more Dutch supporters than Canadian ones in the Olympic Oval.  Orange was everywhere and there was even a Dutch Oompah band.  It appears the band travels to  many international events to entertain the crowd.  I saw the men's 10,000 metres where the leading Dutch skater got disqualified - very disappointing since he was on Olympic record pace.  I also saw the women's 5,000 metres with Clara Hughes winning the bronze medal.  You can imagine the audience reaction as, to that point, she posted the fasted time of the day.  I think it will be the only event I attended where Canada won a medal.

My next event is the men's curling semi-final (February 25).  I am sure the audience is going to be pumped with lots of red and white and I hope Canada makes it through to the gold medal game.  I have tickets to the final Victory Ceremony which is Newfoundland's night with Great Big Sea as the headline act.  Should be a good final show.

Only a few days left before the Closing Ceremonies.

Obviously my stand-in role as IOC President for the Opening Ceremonies must have been recognized as I have been asked to do my stand-in routine again.  This time I get to officially close the games and pass the flag from Vancouver to Sochi  - well at least in the rehearsals.  There is no audience present for the dress rehearsals so it is not necessary for me to speak.  Consequently, I have to stand quietly for several minutes. Have some golfers have been in touch with those responsible to ensure Graham learns this skill?  Don't hold your breath!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Vancouver - Take 9

Let the Games begin.

The Opening Ceremonies are over and certainly there have been lots of comments and reactions. The Globe, the New York Times and others were very positive while the Guardian was one of those very critical.  Some liked that they tried to do something very different to Beijing.  I think they tried very hard to ensure the first nations were appropriately highlighted but seemed to miss other parts of Canada.

It was great to see the ceremonies live. The atmosphere was fantastic and, until the lighting of the cauldron, all the performances and all the technical aspects went off without a hitch.  Opinions were very split on the singing of the Canadian anthem.  Some were pleased that Celine Dion was not the one singing it.  The common complaint was that a more traditional version would have given the audience a chance to sing along.  It was a very emotional moment when all in the audience stood for the Georgian team.  When the Canadian team came in at the end of the parade of athletes, the place went wild.  That fact that one of the pillars did not rise for the lighting of the cauldron was not so obvious to many in the audience. People wondered if there was supposed to be three or four.  I have not seen CTV or NBC coverage of the Opening but, from all accounts,  CTV coverage was not good.  Many wish that CBC had not lost out to CTV for the rights.

The day after the Opening Ceremonies, the producer explained why the President's box was disorganized at the beginning.  The Governor General and the four first nations chiefs were delayed by protestors and up to 45 seconds before the start there was a chance all would have to be delayed.  I am not sure why the police and those responsible had not taken steps to ensure all the dignitaries were in place well ahead of schedule.  During rehearsals, we stand-ins had to be present there two hours before the start.  Volunteers and performers reported that Graham's stand-in for the event (Jacques Rogge) was not as good and have suggested that I take over for the closing.  Also, in spite of comments from some "friends"  in Ottawa, I was not responsible for the malfunction of the cauldron.  I did not drop something into the gears and I was not distracted and talking to someone at the critical moment the mechanism had to be operated.

On Sunday (February 14), it was the first of the Victory ceremonies.  British Columbia was responsible for the show before the medal presentations and I was asked to help out.  I had my longest shift (13 hours) with a different group of producers.  It was not my best experience. Those in charge did not seem to have any idea of what we were supposed to do and their attitude to the volunteers left a lot to be desired.

In addition to the Opening Ceremony, I have seen a Figure Skating practice session (Mens and Pairs), the Canada/Norway hockey game (a blow-out for Canada) and one session of mens curling (including Canada against Germany) - some of the shots were truly amazing.  I would give the Van 2010 organizers very good marks for the arrangements to get spectators to and from the venues.  Once you are at an event, getting though security and getting into the venue is quite a challenge.  For the Canada/Norway hockey game, once through security, we were herded into an outside enclosure with thousands of other waiting spectators.  Thankfully it was not raining!  Once we given the OK to enter, we all had to walk up a narrow temporary staircase, across a bridge and down another staircase.  Added to the enjoyment were many stopping to take pictures of all those tackling the obstacle course.  Since the bridge went over a road that had been closed for weeks, I have no idea why they did not open a way across the street - it would have been so much easier.  You can imagine how much fun we all had before we even got into the stadium.

Today, the sun is shining and the forecast for the next few days is sun, sun sun. The organizers must be breathing a big sigh of relief with, hopefully, no rain for a while.

The city is certainly hopping every night.  Lots going on and the visitors seem to be having a great time celebrating. 

We are now into rehearsals for the Closing Ceremonies and I don't have any shifts until the 19th.  I'll take the opportunity to walk around, visit some of the pavilions, and take in the Olympic atmosphere.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Vancouver - Take 8

Crunch time!

Only hours to go and the city is in Olympic mode.

Teams have been arriving and as you walk around the city you see more and more athletes in their uniforms.  As you might expect, red and blue are the popular colours.  Apart from  the over 20,000 Van 2010 volunteers in their turquoise uniform everywhere, you have several teams in red, the Coca_Cola reps (some 3,000) in red, CTV in red, while the City of Vancouver Staff is blue, and even the transit drivers have special blue Olympic vests.

The cultural program has been going on since January 22nd and there are lots of special performances and exhibits.  Granville Street has a number of special displays and this should be a very popular street during the games.  Light shows in Robson Square and close to the Burrard Bridge, started last Friday.  The one at Burrard Bridge goes from dusk to dawn.  A fireworks, water and laser show will take place each night from February 12th at False Creek.  It is very near where I am staying so I will go have a go and take look in the next few days.

As one would expect, lots of signage is now up and security has tightened-up.  I heard that they are expecting quite a few protest groups with some already turned back at the boarder.

Many have wondered how Graham would handle stepping down as CMS Executive Director and would he slow down!  The Olympic volunteering has been a good transition and certainly kept me doing a lot of running around BC Stadium.  It may even have prepared me for my next assignment - President of the IOC.

I can now reveal that, since January 30th, my ceremonies VIP stand-in role has been as Jacques Rogge.  Do they know talent when they see it!

For the preliminary dress rehearsals last week, Graham was introduced into the President's box and got to watch the show from there, sitting next to the Governor General (well, at least the stand-in).

On Saturday (February 6th), it was the first full run through with no audience, except for all the cast sitting in the stadium after their performances.  At one point I had to move to the main protocol stage, make a very short speech and announce that we need to wait for a further three minutes and, believe it or not, I had to stand still and say nothing for over three minutes.  During the pause, those in the seats started the wave, shouted, waved flags, etc.  making it difficult to stand "presidentially" - it was a blast.  Will this have changed Graham for ever - don't hold your breath!

On Monday (February 8th), it was the second complete rehearsal.  The audience (some 25,000) was made up of family and friends of all the cast members and ceremonies volunteers.  The cast and volunteers were not able to be in the audience since they were all busy working.  It was a way to thank those who have been supporting all of those involved in the ceremonies.   I had to do my Jacques Rogge impersonation again.  This time they decided to abandon the part where I had to stand still, and instead, I had to read a four minute speech (the length of time Jacques is expected to speak).  Perhaps they realized that Graham being quiet again was too much to ask! 

Another full dress rehearsal took place on Wednesday (February 10th) and I had to do it all over again.  At this rehearsal, all the 2010 volunteers were given the opportunity of getting two tickets and 60,000 spectators were there.  Believe it all not, Dr. Chaos did not make an appearance and the rehearsal did not have to be stopped short.  I guess I have had my fifteen minutes of fame!

They have added another full rehearsal on Thursday so they can check camera angles and make sure they have everything as perfect as possible.

There are several rumours regarding what is planed for the lighting of the flame.  Even though I have been at all the full rehearsals, I have no real idea.  Also, with some 85,000 at the dress rehearsals on Monday and Wednesday, it will be remarkable if they keep all the plans for Opening Ceremonies confidential until Friday.

With all the hours I have worked so far, they have given me the day off on Friday.  So, I will be able to use my ticket and attend the Opening Ceremony.  It will be good to see how it all comes together for the actual show. 

As you may realize, I am having a great time.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Vancouver - Take 7

Getting ever closer!

Even though more roads will close at the end of this week, as I drove into Vancouver to move into the apartment and to return the rental car, it was obvious that traffic in certain areas was already quite congested, and this was at mid-day.  A major arterial into downtown, the one that goes by BC Stadium and Canada Hockey Place, will close on Friday.  This will add more headaches for those trying to drive downtown.  Many roads will have Olympic only lanes so at least official vehicles should be OK and, hopefully, they can get all the athletes to their venues on time.  Certainly by foot or by public transit (TransLink) will be the way to go for all the spectators and visitors.

On the local news last night, they announced good news from TransLink.  During the Olympics, the wait for the SkyTrain should only be about an hour!  Clearly it will be necessary to allow a lot of time to get to the venue and, once there, to clear security.  Traveling maybe something of an adventure but I trust all goes as smoothly as possible.

My volunteering for the Ceremonies is getting into high gear.  On Sunday (January 31st), many groups who have been rehearsing separately came together.  This gave a real chance to appreciate what can be anticipated for the cultural part of the Opening Ceremonies.  Trying to coordinate a very large group of performers is extremely challenging but very interesting.  The more I see what is involved in planning such a large event the more I am impressed by the entire production team.  My only previous experience was when Canada hosted the 1995 International Mathematical Olympiad.  As you can imagine, the  difference is night and day!

On Wednesday, I will repeat as a VIP stand-in for the protocol rehearsals.  There is a possibility I may be asked to perform this role at the dress rehearsals - with large audiences.  Do those in charge realize the risks involved?

Stay tuned for more details!