My time in Vancouver, part I
By Irina Mateies
Photos © Irina Mateies, Ageha
After nine days in Vancouver during the Olympics I can say I still see maple leaves when I close my eyes. The way the Canadians in Vancouver embraced the Olympic spirit really moved me. I know from seeing it on TV that not everybody was happy about the Games but you would never have guessed it from the people on the streets. Everywhere you turned there was somebody sporting a maple leaf and an Olympic logo on their clothing. Even the statues in Vancouver had their Olympic gloves on, I even saw nuns wearing them! And the friendly attitude from everybody was just awesome. I just needed to look a little lost and somebody would come up to me and ask me what I was looking for. And I am not just talking about the volunteers in blues jackets (they were awesome too by the way) but about random people in the street.
But let’s start at the beginning. Many of my friends and family wonder why on earth I spent all that money going to Vancouver. Maybe if I’d come from a different country people wouldn’t find it so weird but there is nothing I can do about that. I have loved figure skating since I was a kid watching it on TV with my mother. Our TV was black and white and the commentators would describe the colors of the skaters’ costumes. That feels like a lifetime ago but it was my life 20 years ago in Romania.
When I grew up and discovered the Internet and the communities for skating fans I decided to experience my favorite sport live. I started close to home with Europeans in Warsaw, upgraded to Worlds in Göteborg and then went to TEB in Paris just because I managed to get press accreditations and it was too much fun to pass up. But I never thought I’d make it to the Olympics. But in 2008 a skating friend I met online told me she could get tickets and asked if I wanted to go along. I instantly started crying and then asked my husband if he would divorce me if I went to one more competition. As it turned out I chose my husband well and plans for Vancouver started taking shape in my mind. A year later I was on my way to Canada.
My mother thought I was joking until I actually showed her the tickets. My friends think I have a problem I should fix with help from professionals. And most people ask me if I used to be a skater. After I tell them no they ask me why I’m so interested in this sport. On a good day I try to answer. On a bad day I ask them if they ever ask that question to a football fanatic. But I love traveling and I love figure skating and I see no reason not to combine the two.
And Vancouver was a great place to be! Especially if you had a couple of friends along and you love winter sports. Every bar in town had a huge TV screen showing the games. Every building in town had the Canadian flag and if possible a banner saying “Go Canada Go”. That banner was also found on all public transportation. But even though it was seen everywhere, the Canadian support for their own country did not make you feel like an outsider, it just made you feel happy to be part of it (well, maybe not if your country was playing against them in the hockey games, but other than that…).
The men’s short program
After two days of wandering the streets of Vancouver, it was finally time to attend a competition. It was time for the men to take the ice and perform their short program.
I was so nervous I was about to puke. I realize this is not normal behavior but I could not help it. And if I was that nervous, it made me wonder how the skaters were feeling! I understand now that the ones who can master their nerves in such situation are very strong people.
I arrived in the special bus designated for the Pacific Coliseum. The line outside was long but it all went pretty quickly. At the entrance we were greeted by different singers which was entertaining.
Inside the halls of the arena it was very crowded with everybody trying to buy something to eat or a souvenir from the Olympic shops. But the atmosphere was quite relaxed. There was Maxim Staviski smoking outside and Nikolai Morozov running around looking for someone. Almost the entire Italian team entered from the same entrance as the rest of us. I had kept my Romanian flag in my purse, but when I saw how everybody waved flags representing their countries I took out my flag too. It was a nice feeling to see all those flags in the arena. After half an hour of roaming the halls it was finally time for the competition to start.
The first skater that left an impression on me was Florent Amodio of France. I love skaters who actually skate to the music and Florent was one of them. The audience seemed to love him too; there were quite a lot of French flags in the audience.
Section 22 was the section where all the skaters, their families and friends sat. So it was fun to glance that direction during the down time. Yes, I realize it sounds a little stalker-like but hey, I had to find some use for my binoculars!
Next to be noticed after Amodio was of course Plushenko. The crowd really cheered for him and you could see how proud he felt standing there. To nobody’s surprise he had a great skate. It was then time for the Romanian skater. But Zoltan had a really bad day and I felt so sorry for him. Sorry and yet proud of him for being there! Not everybody realizes how hard it is to come from a small country where nobody cares about figure skating and yet stick to the sport you like and persevere.
Artem Borodulin of Russia was quite good and the crowd seemed to like him. And the same goes for Javier Fernandez, Spain. I have to say that the crowd always tried to help the skaters and started clapping to the music every chance they had.
It was then time for some well known names like Lambiel, Daisuke and Oda, all of them heavily supported by the audience. Also in the same group was the young Denis Ten of Kazakhstan who definitely impressed the audience and got a lot of cheers. The Swedes showed they are great supporters of their athletes too when Adrian Schultheiss showed up.
By this time in the competition I was starting to feel very fit since I was running up and down the stairs to throw toys onto the ice. Many of my figure skating friends wished they could come and support their favorites too, but since they could not they gave me a list of people for whom I should buy toys. So by the end I wxas looking like a crazy person throwing toys to half of the skaters.
Before the last group I noticed that in the audience, very close to me, were Zoltan Kelemen and his coach Cornel Gheorghe. I told them how happy I was that they were there giving me the opportunity to wave my Romanian flag. They are such nice people and I am so happy I got to talk to them.
Brian Joubert took to the ice and from the first jump I realized that his dream of an Olympic medal was under heavy questioning. The audience again tried to help by cheering and clapping, unfortunately to no avail. But the loudest cheers of the night were in my opinion for Johnny Weir. He was cheered when entering the ice, during the program and even louder afterwards. Johnny was obviously touched and very happy for this support. Another emotional skater was Evan Lysacek. It was impressive to see all the feelings surfacing after his short program. And impressive because he managed those emotions so well during the program.
So all in all it was a great night for figure skating although not for every skater. Patrick Chan had incredible support from the audience which made me think of the Worlds 2008 in Göteborg, Sweden. This Olympic arena was bigger but not by much. But to me, when it comes to awesome moments supporting the home skater, the people in Göteborg still hold first place in my book. They managed to make the entire arena participate in making waves with their hands for the local heroes Kristoffer Berntsson and Adrian Schultheiss.
When this event was over we all headed for the busses and as always we were very well taken care of. And arriving at the hotel me and my friend re-watched the competition, this time as it aired on TV, and then went to bed with a lot of mixed feelings for the event that just ended. I had my favorites and most all of them did not do so well. But I was still happy, because if it had to be like that it was a lot easier to take if you were in Vancouver, and I was!