Thursday, February 25, 2010

Day 12: Last Volunteering Shift!

This is it! It's Feb. 24 and it's my last shift as a Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games voluneteer. I had in fact one more shift scheduled for tomorrow, but it got cancelled. So, today, I say goodbye to Cypress. But not before I say hello to all the fresh snow that Cypress got over night! That's right... snow! Reports indicate that over 17 cm of snow have accumulated on the mountain, just in time for today's event:
  • Ladies' Aerials - Finals
We got to the mountain just past 2pm. It was not only white everywhere (first time I see it like that since I started) but also foggy. We started our shift with a snow statue competition! Our team build a pretty large inukshuk but we have no word on who actually won the competition.

I got assigned to team "Bravo 10" with Caroline and Jane but due to a large number of volunteers not showing up, they put us on "Entry," which is right at the front gates where spectators come in for screening and through ticket check-points. Hence, we didn't get to see any of the competition. Thanks to today's mobile technology, however, we got to follow the Russia vs. Canada hockey game live through the spectators' smartphones! Another way that technology can reunite us? One could definitely argue for it!

The shift was long... It was a wet evening and standing around in the rain on Cypress Mountain does not keep one warm for long. Luckily, dinner time came sooner rather than later. I got to spend it with Caroline and Jane on eating and plotting our escape from the "Entry" assignment. It was fruitless. By the time we got back, we got dispatched on the path to the parking lot to control the crowds returning to the buses. As always, we made the best of it. Glow sticks: check. Reflective vests: check. Megaphone: check. Olympic van parked on the side with music blasting through its open back door: check! I think we put a smile on every single of the 10 000 spectators returning home that night! We had a blast doing it, too... making complete clowns out of ourselves and making friends with a large Australian crowd! Aussie, Aussie, Aussie? Oi, oi, oi!

Yay, Olympics!

Day 11: Sick-Day, Shopping, and Partying...

Sick-Day... I know what you're thinking but trust me, I really needed it. We got really cold at the aerials the night before and I really needed to get rid of that lingering cold. Not to mention that yesterday's shift ended close to 10pm and I was scheduled for 6am today. I just couldn't do it.

I slept in and when I woke up, I decided to hit the town and do some Olympic shopping (it's definitely a new sport and a competition all on its own...). I stood in line for the Bay (the Olympic Superstore) again, hoping they received new merchandise. Nothing. I even triple-checked the boys' section to see if they had an oversized t-shirt or hoodie. Nada. So I decided to check another HBC location: in Burnaby's Metrotown. The supplies at both the Bay and Zellers were even more scarce than downtown. Despite the reassurance from the staff that more shipments are coming in from China... I think I'm going to give up on the idea of getting an authentic Team Canada backpack or buying my brother an original Team Canada hoodie for his birthday. They are simply nowhere to be found. I did try to buy one off some random guy at a bar later that day but I don't think he took me very seriously...

I met up with Laine later for the 4:30pm Canada vs. Germany hockey game. We went to a bar (Score) to watch it on their giant TVs. The atmosphere was great! We even got free Canada inflatable baseball bats that we used as noisemakers (and toy weapons, of course). The Jackson-Triggs (official Olympic supplier) chardonnay and later some local ale were flowing freely and Team Canada won the game 8 to 2. I convinced Laine to go for a walk to Stanley Park's lighthouse area to finally get the picture I really wanted of the huge Olympic rings they installed in the water with the view of Vancouver's skyline in the background. He agreed as long as we'd stop and get a mickey of Jägermeister and some Rockstar energy drinks prior to heading to the park. Looking at it now, it was a baaad idea. A 710 ml can of caffeinated drink at 10pm will not let you have a good night sleep. I guarantee it... :P Not to mention mixing Jäger with some Vietnamese food just before going to bed. I'll just end this post here... Let's just say that the pictures turned out good! Adios... :)

Day 10: Men's Aerials Qualifications - So Close To The Action!

I never imagined to be so close to the action at these Olympic Winter Games that I would be too close to document it in pictures! Here's how this 22
nd of February unfolded...

I woke up to sunny skies yet again! I got ready and headed for my afternoon/evening shift at Cypress. There was no medal event at the mountain today - just qualifications for one of the craziest sports of the Winter Olympics: aerials. When you pause and think about it for a second, there are sports like hockey and curling that take several games in multiple rounds to advance far enough to win a medal. In aerials, you ski down the hill, jump off, perform a series of acrobatics in the air in a span of about 3 seconds, land it, and call it a day! You do that twice to qualify, and then twice again, and you can win a medal within... what... 1 minute? (assuming each jump takes about 15 seconds to complete)? I also admire the judging for this event. There is so much to look out for both in the air, and at landing. I'm just thankful for slow-motion replay :)

We had 24 Olympic hopefuls start in tonight's event. Only half will qualify to the finals. Three Canadians were in the line-up: Warren Shouldice, Steve Omischl, and Kyle Nissen. Anton Kushnir of Belarus was one of the favourites to watch for.

I forgot to mention: my assignment for today was "Free 10," i.e. working the area between the field-of-play, broadcast mix zone, and spectators' standing zone. Pretty much the best place to be, right in the middle of the action. It's also worth mentioning that the 4000 standing-room tickets were not cancelled for this event (unlike for snowboard and ski cross events), so we were expecting significant crowds at Cypress.

We assumed our positions and the competition started on time. The snow crew worked hard all night to prepare the field-of-play with the scare reserves of snow. Despite that challenge, the jump and landing area were up to standards. And the athletes took it to the skies. It's quite breathtaking to witness an aerial ski jump live; to see the athletes fly way up, perform all these tricks, and land safely on two skis. I was so close to the action, that I couldn't actually take any pictures. There were too many professional photographers who paid thousands and thousands of dollars for the privilege of being able to take pictures not far from where we were situated. Not to mention all the television cameras and supervisors roaming around.

All 3 Canadians qualified to the finals. The crowds were ecstatic, especially in our standing-room section, where a group of true fans watched the competition in nothing but boxer shorts, wrapped in Canadian flags with their faces painted in red and white. I took advantage of the action to get my 15 seconds of fame and pose in front of all the TV cameras every chance I had. I think my best shot was during athlete interviews as they were coming off the course. I positioned myself behind each athlete, right in front of the CTV and NBC cameras for the interviews. I hope you saw me! A couple of other volunteers have... :)

Highlight of the evening: Warren Shouldice came out of the Athletes' Lounge after the event and before he could head back onto the bus for the village, the half-naked red-and-white cheering fans lured him to their positions for some autographs. It was my only chance in the day to actually take some pictures so I jumped on the occasion, snapping a few shots with Warren himself. Sweet!

That concluded Day 10. Full of memories and a new appreciation for this spectacular sport, I headed to bed.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Day 9: Olympic Debut of Men's Ski Cross

These early morning shifts are not as much fun as they used to be... Especially not when you're still trying to get rid of that pesky cold. However, each shift is an opportunity to see something new, meet new, interesting people, mingle with new athletes, and - as it happens to be today - experience an Olympic debut of a relatively new winter sport: ski cross.

I was up on the mountain shortly after 4am. That's even too early for a coffee! I waited around for Caroline who finally arrived and we headed out together to the New Day Lodge, for our briefing and assignments. Not only we got scheduled together... we got the grand stand positions, again! Excited, we met up with the team and walked over to the grand stand.

It is cold up there that early in the morning. The sky was still pitch black and some of the lights were not even on yet. The crews were already working on cleaning the spectator area, setting up media zones, prepping the stage for a band, and - most importantly - shaping the course for the athletes.

The gates opened shortly after 7am and we greeted our first spectators to blue skies and a slowly rising mercury. Andrew and one of his friends had tickets for today's event. I welcomed them on the big stairs leading up to the grand stand just after 8am. Qualification rounds started at 9:15. There were three Canadian hopefulls in the line-up: Christopher DelBosco, Davey Barr, and Stanley Hayer. Dave Duncan was also there but he couldn't participate due to injury. Instead, CTV invited him to their broadcasting booth to commentate. Not knowing who he was, I gave him really hard time getting through my Access Control check-point that I was manning at the time, since he didn't have the right accreditation. In the end, CTV resolved that quickly by getting him the right card and I did the right thing, although afterwards I regretted not getting a picture with him.

Coming back to the important stuff: the race. DelBosco was the sole Canuck that made it all the way to the final. The crowd was on fire when he joined his three rivals at the start line. And off they went! He had a good shot at bronze throughout the minute-and-twelve-second race. But right before the last jump, he decided to fight for silver instead of keeping his third position and... wound up a little too fast on the last turn, flying off course into a snowy heap. He ended fourth, while Michael Schmid of Switzerland reached for the gold. Davey Barr finished 6th and Stanley Hayer was knocked out in the quarter-final round. Andreas Matt (AUS) and Audun Groenvold (NOR) took the silver and bronze, respectively.

Luckily, I got to see the final run and was able to hang around the area where the grand stand meets the snow zone and where athletes often mingle with the press and their families and friends. This translates to numerous candid pictures of the ski cross guys who are in general tall and heavy, more like hockey players than cross-country skiers...

Speaking of hockey... What happened tonight? Canada got defeated by Team USA 5 goals to 3. There are still hopes for the podium but we're off to a rough start against one of our biggest rivals. I didn't see the game though so it's less painful for me, I guess. After my shift, I headed home to eat and change. I then made plans with Rebecca to meet up at her sister's place for supper and some more Olympic TV watching, and - of course - to meet up with our common friend Dan (the Step Up Dan for those of you who know him) who just flew in from Australia and is making a pitstop in Vancouver before heading back home to Montréal. It was a really fun reunion. I shared my Olympic stories and he shared tales from his travels down under. I can't wait to catch up with him again before we both head back home. He still has no idea what Vancouver has in store for him!

I, on the other hand, do. And I will try to enjoy some more of it all tomorrow. Hence, I shall leave it here and get some well-deserved sleep. :)

À plus...

Day 8: Second Day Off... 'We Were Made For This'

I finally got some sleep last night! Not too much, but just enough to function relatively normally right from the get-go.

Today's mission:
  • Hit the HBC Superstore downtown and get some Canada gear
  • HBC 1 : 0 Michal
So, the Superstore is basically an oversized Olympic apparel section at the Bay downtown Vancouver. It's the official site where one can get anything from a pin to a hoodie to a giant Quatchi. Well... so one would think considering that the store is open 24 hours a day and it is constantly restocked. I got there in the early afternoon and joined the queue of happy tourists and locals eager to get their hands on anything red and white, or... big and hairy. Mascots, folks, I'm referring to the mascots here...

After a 45-minute wait, I finally got in. "Get your free large Quatchi if you spend $60 or more on mascots!" was blaring from a megaphone at the store's entrance (I would not want that job... Actually, I would not want any of the jobs at that store. Period.). I dove into the men's section. Browsing, browsing, browsing... Where are all the cool jackets and hoodies? Where are the nice Canada backpacks? (I really want one. Like... REALLY!). There was nothing nice left! Well, unless you're a newborn - they may have still had a few nice things in those sizes. It was an upsetting experience. One of the associates promised that they restock regularly but that initial queue is hindering me from wanting to go back...

After that disappointing start to the day, I met up with my buddy Laine and we went for coffee at Gastown. We hang out for a bit, until he had to head to work. I walked him there and decided to check out the Bell Ice Cube, which was just around the corner. The queue was only a couple of minutes long and they were giving out free earbuds. So I went in. It's basically a giant glass cube structure, filled with Bell's latest technology and flat screens displaying various Olympic events, live. You can plug in those fancy earbuds to the numerous outlets hanging from the ceiling by each viewing station to get an audio feed from a specific event and get the full Olympic TV experience. It was pretty neat, I must admit.

From there, I headed over to Cambie Bridge to get a few shots of BC Place and then down to LiveCity Vancouver. Andrew managed to sneak us in without waiting in the queue (by sweet-talking the gate guards) that was over 60 minutes long. We got some decent Chinese food on-site and enjoyed some live music while waiting in yet another line, this time for the Coca-Cola tent. At that point, I decided that I would much rather sit at a bar than stand in another queue (this one looked like it would take 2 hours to get in...). So, I bounced off to Scores, where my other friend Adam was having beers with some friends. We had some brews and watched Canada lose in a bunch of speed skating events. It was quite upsetting and I was getting quite tired. Also, the thought of getting up at 2am for my 5am shift forced me out the door and back home. After all was settled and done, it was already past 11pm. Thus, 3 hours of sleep is all I'm getting!

Will I survive Day 9?
According to HBC: "We Were Made For This" :)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Day 7: First Day Off

I jump-started my day with a big breakfast, some Cold-
FX and Tylenol. I uploaded a few pictures to Facebook and headed off to Oakridge Mall to get some Canada gear. I met up with my friend Laine there and we went in to the Bay. There is nothing good left! (unless you're a kid under 6) We tried Zellers, too... the Olympic gear zone looked like a disaster area after a hurricane. I ended up getting some mascots.

We got back downtown, had coffee, and navigated through the crowds toward English Bay, where we met up with Andrew, took some fun pictures of the sunset and the beach, had sushi, and headed back downtown. Laine went to work and Andrew and I went to Steamworks to meet up with the gang for beers. Rebecca, Flora, and their friends turned up at Steamworks shortly after, right when we heard an announcement on TV that Jon Montgomery just won gold in skeleton, Canada's 4th Olympic gold medal. The crowds went crazy and the cheers were accompanied by the singing of O Canada. Pitchers of Steamworks Lion's Gate Lager arrived and the party was on. Around 10pm, we headed out to a private event at the Vancouver Art Gallery. I have no idea how we got in! The party was awesome. There was a balcony that opened up onto Robson Square (picture). The view and the atmosphere were fantastic! Free wine was flowing by the bottle and everyone was having an amazing time.

Exhaused, I crashed at 2am...

This first day off really let me enjoy the incredible atmosphere downtown Vancouver. It's a true party town and we're not even half-way there... So, stay tuned! More to come... :)

Day 6: Ladies' Half-Pipe & Cold-FX

Another sunny morning! Tired, but happy, I headed out for my last shift before a 2-day break.

After check-in (I got my 6th shift gift today: a Quatchi mascot! Woohoo!), we went up to the lodge for our usual monring briefing and assignments. Today was my lucky day! Assignment: "Grand 20." As one can imagine, an assignment called "grand" must be, well... grand! It really is. I was dispatched to the grand stand, and on rotation between stairs leading up to the spectator area and the bottom of the grand stand, right in front of the half-pipe. Sweet!

Today's competition:
  • Ladies' Half-Pipe (Qualifications, Semi-Finals, and Finals)
The weather couldn't have been better! The stand turned into a tanning zone. Some were in t-shirts and a few guys decided to take their tops off completely. It was probably close to 15 degrees in the sun and everyone was smiling, despite having to climb over 230 steps to their seats. In the VIP zone, I spotted Jacques Rogge's wife and numerous members of the athletes families.

By scanning the crowd, one can quickly discover who the favourites were. There were huge signs for Gretchen Bleiler (USA), Kelly Clark (USA), Hannah Teter (USA), Torah Bright (AUS), and a sea of red-and-white paraphernalia and maple-leaf flags for the three Canadians: Mercedes Nicoll, Sarah Conrad, and Taylor Palmer. Poland's Paulina Ligocka also had her loyal fans: her cousins Mateusz and Michal (also snowboarders who competed just a day earlier) waved big Polish flags up on the stands.

In the end, Torah Bright finished first and won gold for Australia. Hannah Teter finished second and Kelly Clark third. I was rooting for Kelly since her family gave me handwarmers as soon as the sun went behind the mountain and it got cold quickly. Thanks!! They came in very... handy (pun intended).

It was a really fun day! I finished my shift with a photoshoot with a fellow volunteer (and my partner-in-crime at Cypress) Caroline and Quatchi in the check-in tent, and headed home.

When I got home my throat was on fire and I was getting a fever. It was bound to happen: 6 long shifts, very little sleep, and hours spent on public transit are not the best combo for staying healthy... My immune system must have been down and I caught a cold. Luckly, the Games are sponsored in part by Cold-FX! Each volunteer got a bottle of Don Cherry's pills along with the uniform. So I popped a couple of them ginger-extract pills and went to bed just past 7pm. I woke up at 9pm to assess if I was in any shape to go out... negative. I crashed and slept until 9am the next day.

It was exactly what I needed! And Cold-FX may have worked... I felt better already and ready to enjoy my first day off...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Day 5: Shaun Does It Again!

Today, I will be brief because I have another one of those late finish / early start shift combos... So, I will try to get full 4 hours of sleep.

  • Main event at Cypress today: Men's Snowboard Halfpipe (HP)
To no surprise, the snowboard superstar Shaun White (USA) soared through to the first place on the podium and won his second Olympic gold medal.

I was assigned to "Entry 30" today: assistance at the main entry point for spectators in the security screening zone and at the parking lot at the end of the event to ensure efficient spectator flow and bus loading. Given such assignment, I didn't get to see the whole event. I did however get up on the stands just before my shift, during the Qualifications round. I got a few shots of the boys flying way up high over the halfpipe's edges that I will try to share with you as soon as I can. I also went back there on my dinner break, just before the Finals. I got a few pictures of Shaun and a couple of other athletes warming up on the HP.

I guess the warm-up paid off as he swept off that gold medal with a score of 46.8 out of 50, beating Peetu Piiroinen (FIN - 2nd) and Scott Lago (USA - 3rd).

After the event, Shaun mentioned in an interview that when he got to Cypress, the HP was one of the worst he'd ever been on but after tonight's final, he agreed that the snow team did a great job overnight and today's HP was one of the best he's ever ridden through.

In Other News:
  • My buddy got a picture with Tony Hawk, who was cheering on the USA team at Cypress
  • Former PM Jean Chrétien was also on site, cheering on the Canadian snowboarders (maybe not loud enough as Justin Lamoureux finished 7th, Brad Martin 23rd, and Jeff Batchelor 32nd)
That's really it for today...

No Canadian medal at Cypress today but... there is always tomorrow to (as Chrétien's jacket so proudly displayed): Own the Podium.

Good night!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Day 4: Today, We Shake Hands With The Governor General

There is never a dull moment at Cypress... Today, we had a special visit!

I started my shift at 6:00am. Today's assignment: "Path 20." At first I thought: Oh, great... Crowd control - how exciting can that be? Was I ever wrong! In fact, I was in charge of a gate to the restricted area just off the main path that spectators take to get to the grand stands for SBX/Half-pipe. Who goes through it? The media/photographers, athletes, athletes' families, dignitaries, the mascots, even graffiti artists that were painting on a big graffiti wall along the main path. While controlling access, you also get to mingle with the spectators coming for today's women's SBX, so there is always action around.

The day started off on a bad note though. We were greeted by torrential rains that continued up until around 9am. Then we got fog. The competition was first moved from 10:30am to 11:30am, and later to 12:30pm. The fog finally lifted around noon and about half-way through the competition, the sun came out. So did the mascots, stirring quite the commotion in the crowd, especially amongst the youngsters!

But it's the surprise visit from our official Head of State, Her Excellency The Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, that was on everyone's lips! Of course, she passed through my gate not once, but twice, greeting me and shaking my hand on the way out. Yes, we're pals now and I hope to hang out with her at the Keineken House tomorrow to party it up!

Today, there are enough reasons to celebrate, too. The main one: Cypress, the 'Special Child' of the Olympics, despite its challenges, has produced another medal: Maelle Ricker won the 2nd Olympic gold for Canada today in women's snowboard cross!

So for Cypress, our Canadian medal record to date is... 4 in 4!!
  1. Feb. 13 - Jenn Heil (Women's Moguls) - Silver
  2. Feb. 14 - Alexandre Bilodeau (Men's Moguls) - Gold
  3. Feb. 15 - Mike Robertson (Men's SBX) - Silver
  4. Feb. 16 - Maelle Ricker (Women's SBX) - Gold
It's all smiles amongst the 'blue jackets!' :)

After my shift, I got home and met up with Adam. We headed out to a local theater, the Cultch, for a play titled BASH'd (part of the Cultural Olympiad) and then downtown to the Deutsche Haus for some real German beer and bratwurst hot-dogs!

Another awesome day: check.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Day 3: Silver in SBX and My New Paparazzi Role

Feb. 15th started on just 2 hours of sleep. Yup. That is all I got last night. No, not because I went out. In short: my Sunday shift finished at 8pm and my Monday morning shift started at 6:00am. Here's a little breakdown for you so that you get the picture of what we sometimes go through (you'll see later why it's all worth it in the end):
  • I leave my work position at 8pm
  • I board the bus to Lonsdale Quay at 8:55pm (yup, almost a 1-hour queue)
  • The bus drops us off at Lonsdale at 9:30pm
  • I make it across the bay to Waterfront Station on the SeaBus for around 10:00pm
  • From there, I get on the SkyTrain and get off at Nanaimo Station at 10:30-ish...
  • Finally, I hop on the bus (line 7) around 10:40pm and ride it for another 10 minutes
  • Add a 5-minute walk home from the bus stop and that brings us close to 11pm
  • I'm in bed by midnight only to get up at 2am today
  • I'm out by 2:30am to car-pool with a very cool volunteer, Hilary (in a white Mercedes B200, thankyouverymuch)
  • She drives us to Capilano University, one of the 3 Olympic bus transportation hubs
  • The bus leaves Capilano at 3:10am and we get to Cypress just before 4am.
Yeah... exactly...

My shift didn't really start until 5:45am. That's when we get our daily briefing and assignments. So, what does one do with close to 2 hours to kill? One gets RCMP officers to take pictures of him on the moguls, where Alexandre Bilodeau (or as they call him here now: Alexandre The Great) won the first Olympic gold on home soil. One also gets a ride on the chairlift that the world's best snowboarders will be taking later in the day to get on the snowboard cross (SBX) track. One basically loiters in search of the best spots to get a glimpse (and maybe a photo) of the athletes.

"Snow 20" was my assignment for the day. What does that mean? It means that our team would be taking care of the area in front of the spectator stands and the bottom of the run (i.e. the mixed zone reserved for photographers and media). Originally, this area was designated for general admission tickets but those got canceled due to unsafe snow conditions, i.e. the snow is too scarce to support the 4100 persons that the tickets were sold to. Sorry, folks! Refunds will be issued...

After helping with the set up in the area, I was positioned as Access Control coordinator for one of the gates at the Mixed Zone. Translation: I got front-row-seats' view of the athletes as they would come off their last jump and down the final stretch of the course and through the finish line, into the bay, out through the gates and the Mixed Zone, and down to the chair lift. Amazing! I have a few shots of Seth Wescott (USA - winner), François Boivin (Canada - 12th) and Mike Robertson (Canadian silver medalist), Zan Kosir (Slovenia, n/a), Damon Hayler and Alex Pullin (Australia - 10th and 17th), Xavier De Le Rue (France - 19th), and others. The chance to be so close to these fantastic individuals combined with sunny skies made for a great day at Cypress.

Exhaused, I crashed as soon as I got home around 7:30pm. I slept until 2:45am, when the alarm sounded to wake me up for my next morning shift and a day of women's snowboard cross...

Do we have more medals on the way?
We'll see...

(Picture: Mike is on your left)