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