Category Archives: From Haley Shapley

Another Olympics Chapter Closed

When the IOC president declared the Vancouver Games officially over last night and the crowd began to boo, I sympathized. In fact, I’m watching a repeat of the closing ceremonies now, just because I don’t know what else to do — I know the Olympics are over, but for the past two weeks, they have been my life. And who am I? Not an athlete or an organizer, just a spectator who got to soak it all in for a few days, and who, like most, saw the majority of the events through the magic of television.

But even though I have no special connection to the Olympics (unless a report on the Games’ history in seventh grade counts), I clear my schedule every two years so that I can watch as much as possible — and I am never disappointed. There are incredible feats of athleticism (Shaun White dominating in the halfpipe), stories of sacrifice (the Chinese pairs skaters who finally captured their Olympic gold and can now move on to married life outside of the dorms), unthinkable tragedy (the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumartashvili, may he rest in peace), the perfect example of the saying “luck is when opportunity meets preparation” (see all of Apolo Ohno’s medals), and triumph over adversity (with Canada’s Joannie Rochette being the prime example of that). This year, Kitsap County even had a hometown hero to cheer for in Bree Schaaf, and you can’t beat that.

I got to see the world’s best male skiers fly down a mountain, up-and-coming women’s ice hockey players from countries where the sport is fledgling, and champions from all over the world accepting their medals. I also got to explore our neighbor to the north and interact with the hospitable locals and travelers from afar.

Here are a few things I learned from attending my first Games:

— There is a trade-off to the in-person experience — while you almost certainly won’t get to see as many events as you would if you were watching at home, the energy and the enthusiasm in the air are things that don’t transmit 100 percent over TV.

— Learning what you can about the sports and athletes before attending an event provides for the best experience. While some events have commentators for the crowds (like alpine skiing), others don’t, and it’s always more fun when you have some idea what’s going on. Plus, athletes’ backstories are — at least for me — one of the best parts of the Games.

— Stay as close as you can to the events. I know people who stayed in towns farther away and they did just fine, but I was thankful every night when I could easily walk back to the centrally located B&B I was staying at. Availability and price definitely dictate your accommodations, but the closer you are, the more time you’ll have to enjoy the experience. (Although $900 a night is just crazy.)

— Embrace the lines. The Games are crowded. On the weekends, extremely crowded. Fortunately, everyone at the Olympics seemed to be in a cheerful mood, and everyone was super friendly. Striking up a conversation with fellow line-standers proved to be informative and an entertaining way to pass the time.

— You can sleep when it’s over. Right now, I’m sneezing every two minutes and can’t taste food. Yes, I’m sick, and that’s not common for me. My guess is that the go-go-go pace of being at the Games and the lack of zzz’s did my body in, but I don’t regret it. I saw and did what I wanted to, even when it meant the alarm went off a mere hour and a half after my head hit the pillow, and I’ll remember those things I experienced far longer than I’d remember eight hours of sleep.

Thanks to the Sun for the opportunity to blog about my experience and to everyone who’s been reading the posts. I’ll be eagerly watching London in 2012 and Sochi in 2014 from home, but I’m hoping to make the 2016 trip to Rio de Janeiro. Until then!

– Haley Shapley

Whistler Worth Waiting For

With fingers crossed that men’s giant slalom wouldn’t be postponed again, we woke up at 4 a.m. on Tuesday to make it to our bus that would take us on the 2.5-hour trek up to Whistler. I’d heard that the drive up is beautiful, but as you can imagine, it was too dark to confirm that, so I slept most of the trip. When I woke up and discovered we were in Whistler, I was excited to find the mountain town as picturesque as the many TV shots portray.

Approaching security, we were asked to take off our jackets, gloves, hats, scarves, and pretty much everything else keeping us warm. I actually thought they were joking at first, because we’d been to two other events (in the much-warmer Vancouver) and didn’t have to take off anything. Although they didn’t say why at the time, I later learned that the metal detectors weren’t working. I appreciate the need for security, but it was definitely a chilly few minutes sans jacket as they tore through everything in my purse!

We got into the venue earlier than most and secured standing spots in the second row — well, kind of. As more people showed up and tried to muscle their way in, I did my best to hold my ground but somehow ended up farther back. Still, we were close enough to see the media doing interviews with the athletes and had a great view of the hill (when the tallest woman I’ve ever seen in my life who slipped in front of me moved her head to one side, at least). I wasn’t sure how much of the course we’d be able to see, and the answer was about 20 seconds of it for the best skiers — it took around a minute for them to come into view.

While it wasn’t a great day for the Americans (Bode Miller missed a gate, and Ted Ligety had the best U.S. finish at ninth), we had fun cheering for all 103 skiers (I had no idea there were so many!). My favorite was probably Hubertus van Hohenlohe from Mexico, the only athlete representing Mexico in the Games and also the oldest of all the athletes at 51. He raced dead last but didn’t finish in last place (he was 86th), and he got lots of cheers from our section, which included two people from Mexico proudly waving their flag.

During intermission between the first and second runs, we decided to grab some lunch (mostly I just wanted to warm up, as my toes and fingers had lost all feeling.) We chose to walk down the mountain rather than wait for the chair lift, as the volunteers were encouraging. No matter how good of shape you’re in, the incline on that hill was killer, mandating that you walk in a crouched position nearly the entire time to keep traction and not blow out a knee. Lesson learned: On the way down, take the chair lift!

The final round went much faster, as there were only 30 skiers, but the crowd had grown considerably. Because they skied in reverse order this time (as opposed to the first round, when the best went first), it was an exciting, tightly matched race for the gold. In the end, Switzerland’s Carlo Janka won, prompting plenty of bell ringing and screams from the Swiss fans.

Although the travel to and from Whistler took about five hours and it was nerve-racking knowing that the race could be postponed at any time, as it already had been once, I’m so glad we made it up to the mountain for a skiing event and got to experience both Vancouver on ice and Whistler on snow.

– Haley Shapley

The Long (Lines) and Short of It

One thing I expected at the Olympics were big crowds, and that’s exactly what I got, at least on Saturday and Sunday. A few of the sample wait times over the weekend:

To see the cauldron unobstructed: 1 hour

To go on the free zipline in Robson Square: 7-plus hours

To get into the official Olympics store: 20 minutes

To sit in a bobsled and have your photo taken: 30-plus minutes

To cross the border: 1.75 hours

To eat at a downtown Subway: 25 minutes

To board the SkyTrain: 20 minutes

To get into the Vancouver Art Gallery: 1.5 hours

The crowds did considerably thin out as the week went on, and I was glad that we arrived on Saturday, the busiest day of them all, because every day after that seemed easier and less packed. Watching Canadian TV Saturday night, that was the big story — there were more people in downtown Vancouver than they’ve ever had before, and even more than they had anticipated. As a result, they forced liquor stores to close at 7 p.m. to try to curb the public drunkenness and crowd control issues they were having as the nights wore on.

Standing in line wasn’t all bad — we met a lovely Canadian family while waiting to see the cauldron who helped us figure out how to get to Grouse Mountain, and while in line at the official Olympics store, my friend Ashley won a hat in an impromptu trivia contest (that’s her in the photo pretty psyched about the accomplishment).

I just hope the people waiting for the zipline found the 30 seconds or so of soaring above the city worth it! (It did look like a blast, but I only have so much patience.)

– Haley Shapley

Victory Was Theirs

Because we had all of Sunday sans commitments since our skiing event up at Whistler was postponed, I thought it would be fun to try to go to the Victory Ceremony that night. At the ceremonies (one’s in Vancouver; one’s in Whistler), medals are awarded for the most recent events. It took some wrangling, but we scored ourselves a couple of nosebleed seats for the evening at BC Place.

I didn’t know exactly what to expect but immediately was excited to find out that the first presentation was for the men’s speed skating 1,500 meters race, which Shani Davis took silver in. The three top finishers were displayed racing on the big screen as the crowd erupted, then the athletes marched out, took their place on the podium, and were presented their medals. After the flags were raised and the gold medalist’s national anthem played, silver and gold confetti was shot out of two cannons (my favorite part!), and the medalists posed for photos.

As the ceremony in Whistler was held simultaneously, we toggled back and forth live on the big screens between the two all night, getting to see eight presentations in all. I was completely ecstatic once I realized I’d be watching Apolo Anton Ohno (possibly my favorite winter athlete) get his bronze in the short track speed skating 1,000 meters, his seventh career Olympic medal. We also got to watch Bode Miller presented with his gold for the super combined, and although the crowd was primarily Canadian, there were plenty of us singing along to “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

After the medal ceremonies finished, there were two concerts, one from Trooper, a popular Canadian band celebrating their 35th anniversary this year, and Loverboy of “Working for the Weekend” fame (whom my mom was pretty pumped to see). The show was complete with a light display and fireworks.

Of all the things I saw and did while in Vancouver — walking through town, attending sporting events, seeing the cauldron — nothing made me feel more like I was at the Olympics than the Victory Ceremony.

– Haley Shapley

Ice Ice (Hockey) Baby

Those of you who read about my Today show experience know that my Monday morning started very early — but it didn’t end there. After getting back to our B&B around 8 a.m., we had a quick breakfast, then I got a little sleep before our first sporting event of the Games, a women’s ice hockey match. We were disappointed at first to find that we were watching from UBC Thunderbird Arena on the University of British Columbia’s campus as opposed to Canada Hockey Place, the signature hockey venue in Vancouver (also an easy walk from where we’re staying), but catching the bus there was easy, and the arena was cozy — there wasn’t a bad seat in the house.

The match-up was between China and Slovakia, two teams not known for their women’s ice hockey prowess. In fact, China’s last victory at the Olympics was in Nagano in 1998, and Slovakia had never fielded an Olympic team in this sport until this year. Both came into the game without a win. It’s always more fun when you have some investment in the game, so my mom and I chose Slovakia as our team du jour (I’ve always liked underdogs), then fully committed to cheering them on.

The great thing about the match is that it wasn’t a blowout — China looked stronger early on, getting off more shots, but it was Slovakia with the first goal, which came in the first period. Most of the crowd was North American without a team affiliation, a marked difference from that much-hyped game the day before. Both teams worked hard, and in the end, China came out on top, 3–1.

In Canada, there are 80,000 girls playing ice hockey. In the U.S., there are 60,000. In Slovakia, 200-something. In China, just 67. While the game lacked some of the excitement that comes from seeing the world’s most elite athletes at their best, it would be sad to see women’s ice hockey eliminated from the Olympics, as some advocate given the dearth of competitive teams from countries outside of North America. But there is no equivalent of the NHL for women, and just as it was when softball was cut from the summer games, it would be unfortunate for ice hockey to also get the axe.

Go, Slovakia!

– Haley Shapley

Big Fun on the Small Screen

It was 3:30 a.m., and I stood at the front of the line, watching a packed gondola head up the mountain without me. The good news: My mom and I had each received one of 100 daily complimentary tickets the Today show is offering its morning viewers who come out to see the show in Vancouver. (The price is typically $45 per person.) The bad news: We were told there were only 100 seats inside the chalet, and with the capacity-filled gondola disappearing into the distance as it sailed higher, chances were slim that an inside spot would be ours.

Just happy to have a ticket in hand, we settled for being the first two in line on the next ride up. As the gondola arrived but the gate didn’t open, word started to spread that a Today show correspondent was on the way, and we’d hold until the person arrived. Suddenly, I caught a glimpse of the mystery person and exclaimed, “That’s Jenna Bush!” Most of the crowd didn’t react, as most weren’t American, but I got to stand just feet away from the former president’s daughter on the ride, and she was sweet enough to take a photo with me, despite the ungodly hour.

At the top of Grouse Mountain, located in North Vancouver, the Today show has set up shop for the duration of the Olympics, and they were just beginning the morning’s broadcast when we arrived. Matt Lauer, Meredith Vieira, Al Roker, Ann Curry, and Natalie Morales were all there, along with Jenna Bush Hager, Kristi Yamaguchi, and a few other guests. Because the crowd of people ready to line up at 3 a.m. and stand in the snow is considerably smaller than the typical gathering outside the New York studio, the show had a small, intimate feel, and we were able to talk to the hosts during commercial breaks and get pictures, autographs, and signed scripts. They were all incredibly nice, but Ann Curry was especially friendly, stopping to have conversations with fans and even giving away her hand warmers when she spotted someone who looked cold.

My sign made it on TV lots of times, including about an hour into the show when a cameraman asked if my mom and I wanted to be on camera and set up a shot coming back from commercial break where it opened with us waving. My mom also got plenty of face time, as she was clearly visible near the end the show during an interview with Ann Curry and Kristi Yamaguchi. Although she hadn’t been thrilled with the idea of getting only a couple of hours of sleep and making the trek in the first place, she was soon on the phone with pretty much everyone she knew, urging them to tune in. (I sang a few bars of Dashboard Confessional’s “Vindicated” to her after the trip, but I don’t think she was appreciative…)

Not having access to the chalet didn’t matter, as they ended up doing virtually the entire show outdoors, and no one on that first gondola we narrowly missed got inside, either, so it all worked out (and we got the bonus celeb sighting). Not even a few almost slips on the ice or my hour and 45 minutes of sleep dampened my spirits. All in all, it was a great experience to be able to see live a show I watch most mornings, and we were even back in time for breakfast — it isn’t often that you get a full day in before the sun even rises.

– Haley Shapley

Wake-Up Call

There are a few things in life that I’m really bad at: eating food with weird textures, mailing things in a timely manner, making major decisions without the help of a pro-con list, and waking up in the morning. (All right, there are more than a few things, but let’s start with those.) So what compels me to wake up at 2:15 a.m. and head to Grouse Mountain in North Vancouver to stand in the audience of the Today show is a bit of a mystery. Because the show airs live on the East Coast, it begins at 4 a.m. here in Pacific time, with tickets handed out at 3:30 a.m. My mom isn’t exactly thrilled with the idea: In her words, “it would be easier to fly to New York and stand in the audience there.” I disagree (and have been in the New York audience before, anyway), so off we’ll go.

It’s after midnight as I type this, so I’m looking at a solid, um, hours and 45 minutes of sleep. If you happen to be watching the show Monday morning, look for me in the crowd — I’ll look something like the picture at the right, just with a lot more layers.

– Haley Shapley

O Canada

After spending the night in Bellingham with my sister, a college student at Western Washington University, my mom and I slept in a bit (okay, maybe it was just me…) and didn’t get headed to Vancouver until 11 a.m. — big mistake, as the nice weather and weekend status had people coming out in droves. We waited at the border for about an hour and 45 minutes, but we had plenty to keep us entertained, including four girls from Colorado in the car in front of us who literally danced for the entire time, Dutch fans all decked out in orange painting their faces next to us, and border guards looming ominously, as they walked through the rows of cars, stopping to open trunks seemingly at random.

Once across the border, my mom was delighted to spot six bald eagles within a few minutes, and I was delighted just to finally be in Canada. We had a minor hiccup with our B&B being locked when we arrived (turns out they had moved us next door), but we quickly unpacked and headed out to meet my Olympics-crazed friend Ashley and her family. This is a girl who, by the way, keeps a chart of how much time she spends watching the Olympics, and is dismayed that the hours aren’t stacking up to Beijing. That is one drawback to actually being here — normally I would be glued to the TV, watching all of the events and results, but aside from a couple of short-track speedskating races, I don’t know what happened as far as medals yesterday.

We garnered quite a lot of attention with a sign Ashley and her husband, Brandon, made in Cyrillic supporting Belarus, as people came up hoping to speak Russian and Belarusian. Sadly, we couldn’t converse, but we did have fun shouting “Belarus!” through the streets. You can shout pretty much anything into the crowds and get a chorus of cheers back.

We were supposed to be at Whistler today, watching men’s giant slalom, but because of the weather conditions earlier this week, it’s been postponed until Tuesday. Instead, we’re off to shop and sightsee around this very pretty city.

– Haley Shapley

Let the Games Begin

I’ve loved the Olympics for almost as long as I can remember. It started with the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, when as a fourth grader, I couldn’t wait for school to end so I could go home and watch the coverage. I was enthralled by ladies’ figure skating, which had everything — drama (Tonya Harding was there, after all), surprise (who expected Oksana Baiul to win?), and, best of all, triumph over adversity (with Nancy Kerrigan bouncing back from her attack seven weeks earlier to capture silver). But it wasn’t just figure skating that caught my attention — all I needed was a few minutes to hear the stories behind the athletes and I instantly became a fan of any sport.

The closest I’ve ever come to the Games was in 2002, when during my senior year at Olympic High School, I was chosen as a support torchbearer for the Salt Lake City Olympic Torch Relay, and for a few glorious moments, I got to run with the torch in Olympia. (I’d love to show you a picture of that, but my family is notorious for suspect photo-taking skills, so I’ll have to settle for one of me pre-run with a breakfast pastry.) It was an incredible experience, and a year and a half later, when Vancouver was chosen as the 2010 spot, I knew I’d finally get even closer.

It’s been a process long in the making. I’ve been talking about it for more than six years, put my request in for tickets back in late 2008, got confirmation for two events in early 2009, and shored up accommodation arrangements nearly a year ago. And yet last night, as I watched the opening ceremonies, I still couldn’t believe the time had finally come.

But ready or not, in a week, I’ll be there, and I’ll be sharing the experience with you. Check back as I prepare to hit  the road to Vancouver with my mom, Becky Harrington (also an Oly grad); attend men’s alpine skiing and women’s ice hockey events; wake up at the crack of dawn to wave at the cameras for the Today show; and attempt to meet Bob Costas (more on that later).

Oh, and wish me luck finding boots. I’ve never owned a pair in my life, but now — as I’m soon to be standing at the bottom of the giant slalom run for four hours — seems like the right time to get snow-appropriate footwear.

– Haley Shapley