Monday, March 1, 2010
Sadly the Party Ends
Today a friend asked me how the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games compare to the Summer Games in Beijing.
While China's event was very well organized and practically every detail thought out and executed almost perfectly, there wasn't much of a festive atmosphere.
The foreigners coming to the Games tried to whoop things up by wearing their nation's colours, waving flags or even crazy costumes. But the Chinese didn't know what to make of these laowai, many seeing non-Chinese people for the first time. Some gawked at the foreign visitors, others taking pictures with them as proof of "foreign devils" being strange creatures.
However, in Vancouver, it was this colourful array of creative fashions and the enthusiasm of the wearers that really made the Winter Olympics successful. Practically everyday the downtown core was a sea of red, people waving flags, carrying banners saying, "Go Canada Go!" or even painting their faces with the Canadian flag.
The Opening Ceremony for the Beijing Games blew its global audience away by the precision and the sheer numbers of people involved. It was later revealed soldiers were used to perform, as only they can withstand the gruelling hours practicing and are expected to work in unison.
But the event in Vancouver was more intimate, very Canadian and featured stars like Bryan Adams, Nelly Furtado, Sarah Mclachlan, Donald Sutherland, and Measha Bruggergosman. There was also a giant mythic bear and aboriginal dances, a snowboarder jumping through the Olympic rings and fireworks.
The Closing Ceremony tonight was probably more memorable. To address the mechanical failure of the fourth column for the Olympic cauldron 17 days earlier, a clown dressed in mechanic's overalls climbed out and put two wires together and the pillar magically came out. Gold medallist Catriona Le May Doan got her chance to light the cauldron again.
There were giant beavers, flying moose and massive Mounties and hockey players. William Shatner talked about being Canadian and so did Michael J Fox. Comedian Catherine O'Hara apologized for being so Canadian, and then singers Ben Heppner, Avril Lavigne, Alanis Morrisette, and K-OS were some of the acts adding to the celebrations.
Many Olympics are used as an opportunity for nation-building. For China it was a chance to show the world the rising power that the country has become. It made its citizens proud of the nation, despite privately grumbling about the traffic restrictions and being forced in many cases to stay at home to watch the events on television.
Meanwhile the CEO of Vanoc, John Furlong had hoped the Vancouver Olympics would also be a nation-building exercise, but he might not have expected the public's enthusiasm to be so ardent. People have spontaneously burst into singing Oh Canada at competition venues, on the streets and even on the bus I was riding on. I'll never forget that moment, people singing off-key, but very proud of their identity.
The next few days the party atmosphere will dissipate and Canadians, particularly Vancouverites and British Columbians will find out how much the Games cost. They will probably collectively gasp at the numbers, but perhaps they will remember the good times they had and shrug their shoulders. They may think it was worth the cost, a memory they will never forget and neither will their visitors, pleasantly surprised by the friendliness and enthusiasm of Canadians.