When you arrive for a prolonged period in a new country, you undergo a cultural immersion: what is the national sport? how do you use public transport? is it OK to laugh at their accents? When you arrive in a country that is about to host the Olympic games, the cultural immersion is subtly different: who was the hero/heroine of the last games? who is expected to do well? where does national embarrassment lie?
Given that the Winter Olympics includes a number of sports which are unfamiliar to a non-Alpine nation (anybody else know what Nordic combined is? *without* looking?), getting to know the cast of athletes from your new host nation is doubly testing. Canada is also burdened with a potentially unique situation; despite having previously hosted both summer and winter Olympics, no Canadian athlete has ever won a gold medal on home soil. The soul searching and expectation that this induced immediately as the Games began was something I did not envy my Canadian hosts.
The world champions and gold medal favourites were lined up by the television stations – which could break the jinx? Thus it was an enormous relief (and cause for celebration) when Alexandre Bilodeau hammered down the men’s moguls course and won a first Canadian gold. The whole country exhaled. Now it was possible to treat further Olympic champions with the usual mix of wild partying and flag-waving.
When Maelle Ricker went onto to win the women’s snowboard cross, the country’s ecstasy was complete. Two types of snowsport! One Quebecois and one British Columbian! One male and one female! And both on Cypress Mountain, right near the city! So it was a pretty special experience to be able to go to BC Place for Maelle’s victory celebration.
Successfully getting past the unsmiling security people, we joined 26,000 whooping Canadians cheering on Maelle Ricker (and all the other medallists that night). It must be a bit underwhelming to have been the women’s speed skate champion (from Korea), when she heard the ovation for a Canadian winner…
[there used to be a video here but I got a rather unpleasant email from Vimeo saying that the IOC have cited me for copyright infringement. I can’t find an IOC contact to try and work out what the issue is – the spectator guide says:
Photography for personal use is permitted, but flash photography is not permitted at Canada Hockey Place, Pacific Coliseum, Richmond Olympic Oval, UBC Thunderbird Arena and The Whistler Sliding Centre. The use of broadcast or photographic equipment for commercial purposes is prohibited.
Anyone who saw the shaky video taken spontaneously on my iPhone would agree that it wasn’t for commercial purposes so I don’t know what the problem is. Hey ho, that’s the Olympic spirit for you.]
And now we get to have a go at patriotism too; last night in the skeleton at Whistler, Canada (Jon Montgomery) won the men’s, while Amy Williams of GB took gold in the women’s event. I’ll be waving my hankerchief-sized flag out of the apartment window, and probably aiming for a rousing chorus of “Rule Britannia” – after all, the tune’s much more triumphal than the anthem…
The pictures: a virtual Olympic flag flutters above BC Place’s audience; the crowd, complete with enormo-flags; the view to the stage and the actual Olympic flag; the stage from opening night, with blue plastic icicles.