A typical week at Olympics? Read on
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- A XXI Winter Olympic Games week in review:
Day 1, opening ceremony, BC Place: For the first time in five Olympics, I get a ticket to cover the lid-lifter. I board the bus for the 15-minute ride imbued with the spirit of peaceful competition. Thirty minutes later, the bus is lost and the purported navigator is fighting with the driver about whether he should go up a ramp marked "Do Not Enter."
The driver, fearful he'll lose his license, wins. Much swearing by navigator. Driver eventually finds an entrance to stadium, if the not right entrance. Navigator talks cops into letting bus through. Driver executes a 36-point, 10-minute-long turn to avoid scraping side of bus on concrete stanchions. More swearing by navigator. Scribes inside drop all pretense of adhering to spirit of peaceful competition. Four hours later, hydraulics on one support beam of torch fail, flames leap scarily close to fabric ceiling and I eye the exits. Fearing mass hysteria, video operators of giant screens inside stadium do not show national icon and final torchbearer Wayne Gretzky hanging on for dear life in the back of a pickup truck on his way to light second cauldron.
Highlight: k.d. lang's magnificent version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."
Day 2, Cypress Mountain: Women's moguls competition offers Canada first opportunity to own the podium, as Jennifer Heil attempts to defend her 2006 gold. Press tent packed with Canadian sports columnists. Storm system parks over Cypress, the problem child of Vancouver venues, shrouding course in fog and drizzle. Hannah Kearney edges Heil in first run. During two-hour break between runs, rain worsens into sideways downpour. I consider covering second run from television inside press room, but then legendary Edmonton Sun columnist Terry Jones pulls on his jacket and walks out into the night hatless, shaming me into toughing it out. Kearney skis perfect run to upset Heil. "I really want to be part of an Olympic montage, and I think I've earned my right now," Kearney said.
Highlight: Hanging out with 1992 moguls gold medalist Donna Weinbrecht in the mixed zone and seeing her eyes glistening after Kearney's win.
Day 3, Cypress Mountain: Skies clear. Canada gets its first home gold in men's moguls. Fly fisherman and expert woodcarver Bryon Wilson of Montana, continuing his unconscious season, wins bronze.
Highlight: The quiet exultation of winner Alexandre Bilodeau. Growing up with a brother afflicted with cerebral palsy gives him a special appreciation for being able to ski fast and jump high.
Day 4, Richmond Olympic Oval: Arrive just before ice resurfacing break between races of men's 500-meter event. Wonder why it's taking so long. As a trained observer, I note several different machines seem to be taking turns tortoise-racing around the track, but fail to take note of the brand name, assuming that all such contraptions are Zambonis. Have to correct first version of story to say they are Olympias. Crowd rumbles ominously.
Stoppage is so long that even Kleintje Pils, the tireless Dutch oompah band that is a fixture at world-class speedskating events, takes a breather from playing. Bored and fearing event may be called off, I interview the delightful bandleader. Meanwhile, other musicians in the band, watching officials argue about whether the ice is safe, correctly identify three members of International Skating Union board by first and last name, thereby exceeding knowledge base of 99.9 percent of all U.S. reporters covering the Olympics, including me.
Highlight: Seeing Dutch, Japanese and American fans swaying together to "Hey Jude" restores my spirit of peaceful competition.
Day 5, Robson Square, downtown Vancouver: Developing Floyd Landis story forces me to detour to ESPN TV office. On way to meet producer, walk by table where smiling staff person is pouring sparkling wine. "It's Nova Scotia Day," she says. "Nova Scotia has 11 wineries." Who knew?
On set, meet fellow Oberlin College graduate George Smith for the first time. I manage to stay focused during stand-up despite jangling folk music and screaming tourists careening down zip line in background.
Highlight: Watching, on television, Johnny Weir hug a ruffled pillow that perfectly complements his outrageous costume in the "kiss and cry" area after his excellent and under-scored short program.
Day 6, Pacific Coliseum: As Lindsey Vonn celebrates her gold medal in the downhill, the first by an American woman, I frantically research the history and culinary uses of the quark cheese she applied as a topical remedy for bruised shin. "Quark" translates to "curd" in German, but according to Wikipedia, it also means "an elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter" with "intrinsic properties including electric charge, color charge, spin and mass." Coincidence? You decide.
Hurry off to see heats of 5,000-meter short-track speedskating men's relay in which, inspired by Fellini, skaters from several countries circle the rink in anarchic chaos. Door to press room is propped open so cigarette smokers just beyond can share their experience.
Day 7, Pacific Coliseum: Arrive at rink hours early and watch intermittently during first two groups of men skating long program. Two-time silver medalist Elvis Stojko of Canada munches pizza in our row of seats, plotting his assault on the current scoring system. During one break, woman on giant video screen presents fun facts about Prince Edward Island, immediately bringing to mind John Candy's "Magnum P.E.I." skit from the old "Second City" TV show.
Skater Adrian Schultheiss of Sweden captivates my editor Joy Russo with his straitjacket costume and avant-garde interpretation of a medley featuring songs including "Insane in the Brain" and "Smack My B---- Up." Nobunari Oda, the direct descendant of a Japanese warlord, breaks boot lace in the middle of charming Charlie Chaplin routine, gets it fixed in an astonishingly short time and completes program with utter aplomb. Perhaps Toyota should give him a call? Later that evening, Evan Lysacek skates better than Russia's Evgeni Plushenko and, shockingly, wins.
Highlight No. 1: Accidentally escorting Lysacek's coach Frank Carroll, who was in a state of transcendent joy, back to the mixed zone to talk to my colleagues.
Highlight No. 2: Seeing eternally perky 1988 silver medalist Elizabeth Manley, a commentator for Canadian television, pose for approximately 89 photos with fans while she's on a 10-minute break from the broadcast, smiling and responding graciously to every request. Sometimes what you see is what you get.