By Jay D. Prince
The first time I recall watching the Olympics on television was 1972 when Jim McKay of ABC Sports was taking us through the tragic situation in Munich surrounding the Israeli hostage crisis. Fortunately, that same Olympic Games brought us Mark Spitz and his seven gold medals, and Olga Korbut who kick-started the world’s fascination with gymnastics.
That was the start of my fascination with the Olympics. And despite my extreme disappointment in squash being brushed aside by the International Olympic Committee, seemingly putting an end to our deserving Olympic aspirations (yes, the WSF is now pushing for inclusion in 2020), everything that is good about the Olympics was on full display in Vancouver, BC.
I’ve always wanted to see the Olympics in person, summer or winter. It mattered little to me. So when the Winter Games were being staged just up the I-5 from my hometown, how could I pass it up? My family and I were determined to come up with tickets, regardless of the fact that purchasing them through the official outlet was next to impossible.
The last thing I expected was that my connections in the squash world could help me fulfill my own Olympic dreams. But they did. No, not through a couple of people I know at the US Olympic Committee. Instead it was Ellie Pierce; the same Ellie those of you in NY all know and love. Turns out she knows someone on the Dutch bobsleigh team and that opened a door to tickets. Woohoo! She came through with speedskating (long track) and a men’s hockey game.
I was also fortunate enough to find tickets online for figure skating, more speed skating and the women’s half pipe. Six nights in an RV (that’s another story in itself) on the outskirts of Vancouver and six days of Olympic events.
To say my experience at the Olympics was a good one would be the understatement of my lifetime. Everything about my week at the Olympics was simply awesome! The events were fantastic (even the pairs short program which I feared I may find boring—far from it). The venues were beautiful (the Richmond Oval for long track speedskating is worth a visit just to see the building). And transportation was a breeze with the city’s light rail system (Seattle could learn a huge lesson from Vancouver on that front).
The atmosphere everywhere we went was positive, festive, upbeat and just plain fun. Even standing in line for nearly 90 minutes just to pick up our tickets at will call was a good experience. The people were friendly, volunteers offered free coffee poured out of a backpack thermos (that was unique) and surveyed people to get constructive feedback, and flag waving and face painting was the norm.
Despite the fact that this year’s Games started with such a tragic event, when the Georgian luger died after a horrific crash at the Whistler Sliding Center, the week my family and I spent in Vancouver is one I will cherish forever. At one point I told my son to take it all in because there was no guarantee that he’d ever get that opportunity again.
The hundreds of hours of broadcast television of the Olympics, and the endless amount of video available online, really don’t do justice to what it is like to be there in person. Yes, we can learn about the athletes, their stories, and see the events. But what you really can’t feel is the Olympic spirit that is so pervasive throughout the city, it’s venues and it’s residents and guests. And to see in person the exhilaration and contrasting disappointment the athletes display when they come up gold or finish just outside the medals is inspiring.
I’ve said it before, but I truly hope that one day, squash and our athletes will have the opportunity to have their Olympic moment. There’s simply nothing like it.