Assessing the Olympics

Go Canada Go... the throngs downtown leading up to the hockey game.

On the last day of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, the sun came out, casting a glow on the dramatic, story book finish to the 21st Winter Olympic Games. What a nail-biting climax: a gold medal hockey game in which Canada defeated the US 3-2. On the way to the ferry to Vancouver Island that day, I noticed cherry blossoms and magnolias dotting the sidewalks and the Olympic Torch still burned high.

And I reflected on the last weeks in Vancouver and what the Olympics meant to us.  Here are a few observations:

Sports Create Community
Vancouver is not known as a gregarious city. I remember experiencing the general reticence of the West Coast Canadian when I moved here eight years ago. Yet having something communal to talk about opens people up, like smoking for the socially awkward. All of a sudden you know you can connect with other people about the Games and so you do: in lines, going through security at a venue, or at a restaurant or a bar. You realize you’re high-fiving a perfect stranger or beaming happily at a random guy you would have never even acknowledged before. I consider this a plus. It also made for very engaging train rides downtown.

People Love Standing in Lines for ANYTHING Free
From hot chocolate, to free Coca Cola, lobster at the Newfoundland House, or raclette at the Swiss House… people will stand in interminable lines patiently, in the sunshine (understandable), and in the rain (not understandable) for hours and hours and longer if necessary. Case in point: the zip line across downtown Vancouver’s popular Robson Square lasted about 30 seconds, but the line up to ride it was 7 hours long.

The Olympics Call Upon You to Dig Down Deep Inside for Your Inner Patriotism
Whereas most of us don’t spend much time thinking about what it means to be Canadian, American, Norwegian, or Swiss, the Olympics calls you to ally yourself to a country, at least on the surface. Patriotism equals rooting for your favourite team and subsequently all your national values. This may involve emblazoning your country’s colours on your cheeks and eyelids, wearing underwear the colour of your country’s flag, and of course wrapping yourself in your nation’s banner. 

The Olympics are Run by Corporations
The IOC is a corporation and VANOC, the local body that organized the Vancouver Olympics, is a corporation. Corporations love other corporations, so you can be certain the backdrop to everything about the games from sports to art installations is all about sponsorship. 

Also thanks to universal media contracts at the time of the games. From your arrival at the Vancouver airport, to decals on buses, billboards all around the city, advertisements by the Bells, Samsungs, Coca Colas and McDonalds of the world greet you. I observed parents waiting in line to take their children into the Coca Cola tent at one of the city’s downtown Livecity locations and what did one learn at the Coca Cola house? The history of Coke.

Olympic Athletes Eat at McDonalds
McDonalds had the largest food booth at the Olympic Village and was particularly popular among athletes for whom "McD's" is quite expensive in their home nation. What I would like to know is whether they ate McDonalds before or after they competed.

Olympic Tickets are Very Expensive
Even for residents of the host city, sometimes TV has the best view after all. Watching the games on TV doesn't require a sacrifice of a day of waiting in line for seven hours and travelling to and from the venue, which itself might be considered a sport.

Olympic Tourists are Overwhelmed
Keeping up with the Olympics is hard and tourists don’t venture too far from the venues unless it is to eat or drink. As a local, we found the two weeks of the Olympics optimal to go to our favourite eateries – even ones featured in the New York Times such as my favourite Indian restaurant, Vijs, finding they were less busy than pre-Olympics and without line ups or hordes of expected visitors. We also wanted to help support our favourite local businesses.

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