Just forget the words and sing along

Monday, July 30, 2012

To Visit the Olympics

Once again, the Olympic games are upon us.

Once again, I'm not there.

As I've said in many other forums, while I'm not a sports guy, I've always held a fascination with the Olympics.  Is it the pageantry?  Is it the hype?  Is it the stories of those who've sweated for years just to make it or break it in this one moment?   Or is it the ideal of the entire world deciding to chill for a couple of weeks, get together, and just play a few games?

I'm trying to remember when my fascination began.  You might think it was the Winter Olympics in Calgary, back in 1988.  Truth be told, I don't remember the games themselves that much.  I remember watching the opening ceremonies on TV with my parents.  I remember the endless TV commercials for the Olympic glasses from Petro-Canada.  And I remember, no matter what you did, the song "Winter Games" was constantly playing.

The first time I actually remember following the Olympics, devouring everything I could about them, was the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehamer.  I watched as much of the coverage as I could.  I read every article I could in the paper.  I remember the Edmonton Journal did this huge pictorial on all the Olympic venues, with very detailed and colourful graphics showing their interior layouts.  Did you know that the hockey rink for those Olympics was built in a hollowed-out mountain?  I have yet to see another pictorial like that in a newspaper.

And I remember being haunted by a news report pointing out how, just 10 short years earlier, the Winter Olympics were held in Sarajevo.  A city that, in 1994, had become a literal war zone when Communism fell and the area referred to at the time as "the former Yugoslavia" fell into civil war.  That bit of journalism stuck with me.  The following Rememberance Day, the class assignment in English was to just write something for November 11.  I wrote an essay about how the Olympic ideals could be quickly forgotten in times of war, using the Sarajevo games as my example.  I got good marks on it.  Got to present it to the entire school during the Rememberance Day assembly.  My teacher got it published in the Edmonton Journal. 

Four years after than...Nagano 1998.  I was in college at that time.  The TV in the common lounge in the dorm was always on the Olympics.  I remember that was going to be Team Canada's year in hockey.  It was the first year professional NHL players were allowed to compete.  The drought was going to end, and Team Canada would come home with the gold in hockey.  Team Canada placed fourth.  I remember watching the bronze medal game on TV.  You could see it in the players' faces...they lost the will to win.  They just didn't care any more.  With the gold out of site, they no longer saw the point.  It was very disappointing. 

Four years after that...I arrive in Japan to begin my year as an ESL teacher.  I went out to my city of Kumagaya on the Nagano bullet train line.  I was gob-smacked.  Would I really be that close to the place I saw on TV so many times so many years ago?  And the answer was yes.  Nagano was just a short two-hour trip away on the bullet train.  I started making loose plans to head up to Nagano on some long weekend to visit the Olympic sites.  Sadly, though, with my work schedule, long weekends were few and far between.

For my Christmas vacation in Japan, I headed up north to the city of Sapporo to visit my best friend, who was also an ESL teacher.  Only when I started flipping through the guide books did I learn that Sapporo was the host of the 1972 Winter Olympics.  My plans for the Christmas holiday were set.  I'd try to visit as many of the Sapporo Olympic sites as I could.  Sadly, though, this being the middle of Christmas vacation, most of the Olympic sites - most of everything, in fact - was closed, so my sightseeing consisted of walking up to the locked doors and looking inside.  Fortunatley, though, on my second-last day, Sapporo's shiny new Winter Sports Museum, dedicated mainly to the 1972 Winter Olympics, was open again, so I was able to check that out before I left.  Even paid my money and took a ride to the top of the ski jump to enjoy the view.

Here's an old picture on my hard drive...this is the view from the top of the ski jump, looking down. 

Even though Tokyo was just a 1-hour train ride away, and I spent many a weekend touring Tokyo, I never did any explicit Olympic sightseeing in the host city for the 1964 Summer Olympics.  Closest I got was, one day, I was wandering around Harajuku with some friends and a buddy said, "Hey, Mark, you like the Olympics, right?  That building over there is the pool where they had all the aquatic events."

When my time in Japan came to an end, I knew it was now or never to finally see Nagano.  I set aside two weeks to do a lazy loop through central Japan and see all the sights I'd missed, and Nagano was going to take up a big portion of that.  When I stepped off the train at the Nagano station, and was greeted with this large mural of the Nagano Olympics' logo, I felt this great sense of completion to my time in Japan.  Once I got settled at the youth hostel, I started plotting my trip.

I must have spent about four or five days in Nagano.  I got to know the clerks in the tourist information centre on a first name basis, as I started every day by stopping in and asking, "So how do I get to this venue?"  To help me out, they even dug around in the back room and found one of the old tourist maps that were printed for the 1998 Games to answer just those questions.  I went to Big Hat, which was the hockey rink.  There was actually an event going on that day so I got to go inside and stand at center ice.  I visited Aqua Wing, which was a figure skating venue for the games, but had since been converted into a swimming pool.  Had I brought my trunks, I would have gone in for a dip.  I visited the Olympic Stadium, which has since become the stadium for Nagano's baseball team.  Saw their baseball team doing laps around the Olympic park.  On one day, I took a bus trip outside of town to the ski hills and ski jump.  Once again, paid my money to ride to the top.  Sat at the bottom of the jump and had a lunch of cold soba while I saw some future Olympians practicing.  It was a very good day.

I ended my time in Nagano at M-Wave, which was where most of the speed skating was held.  Also inside they house a museum dedicated to the games.  There was some soccer match going on inside today, so I watched the game for a bit.  As I was leaving the facility, I whipped out my cellphone and called my friend up in Sapporo.  I knew, when his time was done, he'd be going home to Vancouver.  I called and asked, "Hey, isn't Vancouver putting a bid together for the 2010 Winter Olympics?  Do you know how well that's going?"  Right then and there, I extorted an invitation to crash on his couch if Vancouver got the games so I could go see them.

Vancouver was announced as the host of the 2010 Winter Olympics that following autumn, and I knew that I would be going.  I mean, it would be in my figurative back yard, there would be no excuse to not go.  Except for, of course, my chosen profession.

The Torino 2006 Games were going on near the end of my "Great Year of Unemployment."  For those new to the blog, the "Great Year of Unemployment" is what a call the year stretching from April of 2005 (when I graduated from NAIT) to April of 2006 (when I finally got a radio gig).  It was a tireless year of pounding the pavement begging for a job.  I had an interview during the 2006 Winter Olympics, and the interviewer asked why my future goals were.  "To see the Olympics some day," I said.  The interviewer rolled his eyes, let out a disgusted sigh, and said, "You're only saying because it's in the news right now."  I had no desire to expound a lot of energy convincing him otherwise, so I kept my mouth shut. 

As I blogged two years ago, during the Vancouver 2010 games, as much as I love working in radio, it's not a job that lets you do something like save up for a dream vacation.  My opportunities to see the games on home soil came and went, and I was stuck watching it on TV like most others.  But another opportunity might still arise.  Toronto has long longed to host the Summer Olympics.  They lost bids to host the 1996 and 2000 Games, and from what I gather, they're getting ready to try again.  While we've all heard that Quebec City is building a new hockey rink to try to lure back an NHL franchise, the big picture is that Quebec City wants a new hockey rink and an NHL franchise to strengthen a future bid for the Winter Olympics.  It's long been said that building the Saddledome and getting the Flames is what put Calgary's bid over the top, and the IOC has already said they would welcome another bid from Quebec City.

And of course, I could always go to one of the games held every two years overseas...it'll just be a whole lot more expensive.

But, for the time being, I'll have to content myself with Olympic sightseeing in my homeland.  Head out to Montreal, and see the Olympic Stadium before it's officially declared an eyesore and torn down.  My buddy still lives in Vancouver, and I'm sure he wouldn't mind if I crashed on his couch for a few days to see the Olympic sights.  But for a very attainable goal, I'll settle for going to Calgary when things are actually open.

Seriously, Canada Olympic Park, what's your fucking problem?  Every time  I go to Calgary, your Olympic Museum and Canada's Olympic Hall of Fame is closed.  Would it kill you to post some fucking hours?

Here I am on my last trip to Calgary, three years ago.  Once again, everything at Canada Olympic Park was closed, so I was stuck on the outside looking in.  I'm standing on the #2 spot on the podium instead of #1 as a symbol of my profound disappointment.  And as I'm sure you can tell, I'm still bitter. 

\But I must take that disappointment.  I must take that bitterness.  And I must channel it.  I need to make a plan, and start saving.  It is possible.  I will be there, someday, to enjoy the show.  To partake in the whole world getting together to chill out and play some games.

Some day, I will no longer be on the outside, looking in.

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