By Bev Schellenberg
The Vancouver Winter Olympics will open in six days, whether British Columbians like it or not. The other day I was sitting in a Burnaby chiropractor’s office across the waiting room from a white-haired lady when she suddenly blurted, “I don’t want the Olympics here. They never asked me.” I looked around, wondering who she was talking to; she wasn’t looking at me or the receptionist. Fortunately, the receptionist responded, “Well, too late for that! They are coming.” The other patient-in-waiting harrumphed and began to list the problems that are about to descend on the city of Vancouver: traffic back-up, pick-pocketing, and providing snow.
Based on what I’ve read and heard as the games approach, those problems are only the tip of a melting iceberg. Regardless of the challenges, many of us British Columbians, including me, celebrated when the International Olympic Committee chose us in 2003. We cheered again in 2006, when Vancouver’s then-mayor, Sam Sullivan, accepted the Olympic flag in Turin, Italy. Since then I’ve swung between unfamiliar patriotic pride, frustration, outright ambivalence, and a skewed sort of wonder as events unfold.
This mogul-strewn run of emotions began when the world watched B.C. and Canada represented at the closing ceremonies in Turin, Italy.
Other than snow, many British Columbians couldn’t see much in the way of standard British Columbian fare, such as bears, beavers, maple leaves, or our own First Nations’ distinctive traditions. It was entertaining, though, and Canadian, so most of us smiled and soldiered on in anticipation of the coming event.
Then, in 2005, Ilanaaq appeared, and we learned Inuit and discovered what an inukshuk is. Despite initial confusion, he’s been well-received, ultimately, as attested to by the appearance of a four-foot high stone inukshuk in the livingroom of a mom-of-five kids that I encountered recently. It’s still questionable what he had to do with British Columbia before now.
After that we got to see the 2010 Olympic Mascots revealed — characters based on First Nation creatures and designed by Meomi Design, a Vancouver company. Miga is a snow-boarding young sea bear who is part killer whale and part Kermode spirit, and Quatchi is the hockey-loving sasquatch who wants to be a goalie. Sumi, the animal guardian spirit, was revealed as the mascot for the Paralympic Games. The sidekick of all three is Mukmuk, a Vancouver Island marmot, who makes random appearances in Olympic paraphernalia but apparently isn’t really a mascot at all. Following the unveiling of the mascots and marmot, we heard a lot of talk of their similarity to Pokemon characters. Based on the number of sad-looking, overpriced mini-Migas, Quatchii, Sumies, and Mukmuks unsold in Zellers and Save-On Foods, I’m not sure how successful these characters have been in B.C. thus far. However, people did smile and point as full-sized mascots walked through Vancouver airport last time I was there, so perhaps size does matter.
Then came talk of traffic snarls and the shutdown of life for two weeks around the 17 Olympic game venues. Sites include Whistler, Vancouver, Cypress Mountain, and Richmond. As a resident of Surrey, a neighbouring city of Vancouver, I listened to the radio and read the newspaper with surprise as residents within those communities discussed leaving for two weeks to capitalize on sky-high price rental opportunities during the games and to avoid the Olympic experience entirely. Why would people want to leave? I wished I lived closer so that I could walk to venues and be in the center of the Olympic spirit.
No such luck.
After waiting for VANOC to alleviate computer problems in the “virtual waiting room” for newly released tickets, I was happy to finally check out what was available. Sadly, tickets were too expensive when multiplied by three, especially when the cost of the only bus allowed into Whistler was added. Or they were sold out. However, there was something in my own community as well as others called “Celebrations.” Something free. I eagerly researched the term, and discovered it meant that instead of sitting in the comfort of one’s own home watching Olympic curling, for instance, people will be able to join thousands of others at such Celebration Sites as Surrey’s Holland Park, to watch various Olympic events on screens, and wander through a “family-friendly” setting enjoying “sponsor showcasing, interactive pavilions, live performances, and recreational and cultural activities.” Surrey’s will feature “skating, sliding, curling, children’s activities, and performances in Holland Park.” As The Vancouver Sun‘s Best Guide to the Games so candidly points out: “Don’t have tickets? Here’s where you want to be to watch the Games.”
It sounds a bit like the overflow room at a wedding, where you watch the proceedings on a TV or simply hear them waft through an open door. Some fantastic free performances are upcoming, though, so I’ll be there to see the likes of Blue Rodeo and The Sam Roberts Band. Maybe my kids and I will even go “sliding,” whatever that is. But as I stare at the screen and check out sponsor advertising, I’ll be wondering how this great, chance-of-a-lifetime Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic event I was so excited to experience in real life got reduced to a reality show, complete with commercials.