022010 Olympic Curling: Canada vs Great Britain, Vancouver, BC

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As the Vancouver 2010 Olympics approached I did a little wheelin’ and dealin’ with our ticket package (solely through the official Olympic ticket-trading site – I’m no back-alley scalper) and ended up dumping snowboarding tickets and a pair to one of the nightly closing ceremonies (featuring icky Hedley) and ended up with passes to a curling competition (and a few bucks in my pocket besides – again, all on the up and up).  

One of the reasons I got rid of the snowboarding tickets was out of fear that the meet might not even happen.  The weather was so unusually warm in Vancouver during the lead-up to the Games that they were actually helicoptering snow up to the top of Cypress Mountain where the snowboarding competition was scheduled to take place.

(It did, Shaun White won gold.)

It was so warm in fact that on February 20th, 2010 m’lady and I started our day with breakfast outside in her grandmother’s Tsawwassen backyard before hopping on the bus (which was free to event ticket holders) into the city to watch Canada take on Great Britain in a bloodlust men’s curling match.  

We were headed to a venue called the Vancouver Olympic Centre.  I hadn’t looked into exactly how to get there and it turns out I didn’t even have to ask.  At the subway platform one of the ubiquitous Olympic info-employees approached me and said that I looked a bit bewildered, did I need any help?  I did and she delivered, and three stops and a short walk through a residential neighbourhood later we found the seemingly temporary structure. 

There was a significant yet bearable lineup to get through security and into the building, possibly the biggest lineup I saw at the Olympics.  We arrived during the first end and took our excellent seats seven rows up from the end zones.

The place was packed and rowdy.  There was an entire section of Canadian flag-draped fans waving their banners in choreographed unison and people in costumes and face paint and, well, it was just about as crazy of a curling competition as one could contemplate.

Three matches were going on simultaneously: China versus Switzerland on sheet B, Sweden taking on France on sheet C, and the great rivalry of Canada versus Great Britain on sheet D.  There was a big screen and when they took it away from the Canada match the crowd came up with a dozen different chants announcing their immediate and clear displeasure.  The in-house techs soon got the gist and started showing the Canada/Great Britain match almost exclusively.

It appears that Gretzky is a fan.  It didn’t take long for the cameras to find him in the crowd and when they showed him on the screen every single person on his side of the arena – we’re talking at least three thousand people – all stood up at the same time and turned to look at him.  I wonder if a person ever gets used to that sort of thing.

Back on the ice Canada’s Kevin Martin was taking on his nemesis, Britain’s top man, Murdoch.  The Brits had an admirable crowd out to support their team but nothing compared to the Red & White army out to cheer for Canada. The crowd was absolutely manic.

As the match went on it was clear that these were the world’s best.  Nearly every shot went exactly where it was meant to go, it was simply a matter of strategy versus strategy.  The levels of curling are many, and as a novice I found it virtually impossible to follow the reasoning behind all but the last few shots of each end. The mastery involved in both sides was admirable as stone after stone cleared the board only to land spot-on in the middle of the circle.

Curling is a deep game, and beer was $1 cheaper than at the hockey games.

About halfway through the last end with Canada about to throw, a lone fan stood up and started singing the first line of O Canada.  I thought it was a pretty ballsy move because someone (perhaps the same guy) had done the same thing ten minutes earlier and received no reaction whatsoever.  But this time when he hit the second line about a dozen or so people joined in, and by the time the third line started it was clear it was gonna catch on.  Halfway through the anthem the whole crowd – 6,000 strong – got behind it.  The Canadian team actually suspended their play and stood there revelling being revered.  It was an uncharacteristically patriotic move for a Canadian sports crowd, but the fans clearly wanted to send a message to their team that win or lose we were all behind them, and don’t worry because we all know you’re going to win. 

It was a beautiful thing to behold, and something I shan’t soon forget.

Of course Canada won the end (with a final score of 7-6) and the crowd went nuts, giving the men an enormous ovation as the still undefeated team meekly waved towards the stands and slid off the sheet.  A moment later I noticed that “oh yeah, there are still two other matches going on.”  The China/Switzerland and Sweden/France matchups had virtually disappeared from my vision the entire time, though they were standing there right in front of me.  Did they even stop playing during that whole impromptu anthem thing?!?  I couldn’t recall.  We joined about three-quarters of the crowd and stuck around to watch the last few minutes of these seemingly insignificant matches before we all filed out into the night.

Back at the skytrain the surging crowd was herded into an orderly line and given free hot chocolate.  Imagine that!  Treat in hand we made it onto the crowded train in no time and whisked our way home for the night.

I tell ya, going to the Olympics was really, really fun.

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