Sunday, March 14, 2010

Olympic Bobsleighing

This story has added meaning now as our brother-in-law, Gary, passed away on December 23, 2012 after a courageous 5 year battle with cancer. During the event described below, Gary had temporarily beat his cancer into remission. We miss Gary very much.

Vancouver and Whistler BC, February 19-22, 2010: If you’d asked me a month ago, I would have told you that we weren’t going to be at the Olympics. However, at the last minute, we decided to drive up to Vancouver to see some of the games, or, as it is known in Canada, Hockey and some other stuff. :-) OK, no it’s not, but the US vs. Canada preliminary hockey game drew 10.6 million viewers, which was the largest audience ever for a Canadian TV broadcast.

How long did it take to drive from San Jose to Vancouver? If you didn’t need to rest, eat, stop for gas or for the restroom, you could do it in 15 hours without speeding. I did it in 21 hours going north and 23 hours going home taking naps both ways at rest stops along Interstate (freeway) 5. Mireya doesn’t drive, but she is a delightful companion and valuable co-pilot. While in town, we stayed with Mireya’s sister’s family and made up our plans as we went. Our brother-in-law, Gary, found 2 tickets on the legal on-line reseller’s action to the Finland vs. Germany hockey game, which he and I attended late Friday night. Mireya and her sister, Maggie, preferred to go shopping instead. More about the hockey game next time, this week, I’ll focus on our Saturday trip up to Whistler Mountain the main site for alpine and cross country skiing as well as the sliding events, luge, skeleton and bobsleigh.

It had been the warmest February on record, since 1876. Not that 1875 was super warm, remember, those were the days when our ancestors walked barefoot for miles through waste-deep snow to get to school each day. Didn’t your grandparents tell you that story? Makes you wonder how our generation ever came to be. ;-)

Looking at the local mountains from Grand Boulevard in North Vancouver, the Lions, as the bumps on the mountain in the middle are called, were covered in snow, but the ski run at Grouse Mountain was dry, dry, dry. That ski run, known as the Cut, should be completely blanketed in snow in February and look this dry only in the late spring or fall. If this is a trend, then maybe future Winter Olympic games will feature sports such as downhill water skiing, water boarding instead of snow boarding (not THAT kind of water boarding), and roller sleigh instead of bobsleigh.

Cypress mountain, is the next one west of the Lions, was the site for the snowboarding and free-style skiing. The temperature was so warm on Cypress that the snow was trucked in from the interior of British Columbia and 28,000 standing room tickets were canceled because there was no solid snow or ice for spectators to stand on.

It was warm at Whistler Village as well. Funny how different people respond to the same temperatures. We saw everything from full-length parkas to t-shirts and shorts. While we were eating lunch, we noticed a group of Royal Canadian Mounted Police (Mounties) in their red parade uniforms posing for photos.

The bus ride to Whistler took 2 hours, but that was due to the distance and not traffic congestion. The highway was practically empty as cars were banned for everyone except for residents and hotel guests. We arrived at 10:30 AM which gave us time to stand in line for tickets and go for lunch before the big crowds arrived from the event sites. We didn’t know if anything would be available, but there were same-day released tickets for bobsleigh, which we purchased for their $35 list price. A woman behind us said, “Ya know, the sliding track is a lot of fun while ya try to take photos of the sleds coming down, eh?” Man, I miss hearing that small town Canadian accent. The legal on-line auction web site for resellers priced such tickets at double or triple list price. We were very fortunate.

BTW: we booked our dinner reservations right after lunch so we knew where we were going to eat that night. I imagined 20,000 hungry spectators clogging the restaurants at 8:30 and I was right. As a result, we were seated right away after arriving at the restaurant while many others were told there was a one to two hour wait for walk-ins. Ric’s Grill, for those who know Whistler. We enjoyed it immensely.

The luge, skeleton and bobsleigh events use the same course. The sport originated in Switzerland in the 19th century when the riders would bob their heads in the straightaways to gain more speed. Modern-day high technology has since removed the need for that maneuver. Bobsleigh has been an Olympic sport in 1924. There is a 2 man and 4 man event for the men and a 2 person (I guess) event for the women. The Canadian women won gold and silver in their event. The Canadian men won bronze in the four man event. You can find all Olympic Games results here.

Whistler has its small town charm. If you don’t get the sign’s pun, Amos & Andy was a famous American radio routine from the 1930s. Being the center of alpine and sliding events, there was well-represented media presence. These folks are cheering for the camera during a break in the national sports broadcast. I saw this person dressed up as a bear. Neither a games mascot and nor advertising for beer or another product. Maybe somebody having fun with the crowd?

At the Whistler Sliding Centre, it was steep and I joked with Gary that just walking up to the end of the track to the finish line was like an Olympic event unto itself. The organizers had a similar idea as they provided four “play-by-play announcers” who “reported” on the crowd as they walked up the slope. “Now the guy in the blue jacket is passing the guy in the brown jacket. Just look at his style as he takes the lead...” Kids just loved this.

There were also a troupe of innovative drummers called, The Swarm, who were acrobatic and creative in their use of toilet plungers and other objects to beat their drums. They played for the crowd until the race was ready to begin.

There were flags of many nations, the majority being Canadian. The sleighs were so fast, they were practically invisible. Can you see the sleigh in the middle photo? Right photo: Wanna see it again?

I’m joking. You actually could see the sleighs and get some decent photos, but it was hard to get the timing right and I missed many times as you can see in the previous photo grouping.

That is Canada’s sleigh in the left and center photos. On the right, I asked Gary, Mireya and Maggie to pose in front of the track so I could try to get a photo with a bobsleigh behind them.

Worked out pretty well. I got this idea from my friend, Cathy, who has similar photos of herself from the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

This is my missed opportunity to photo one of the bobsleighs after it had flipped over. But I have a reason for showing this photo: These guys then rode down the remaining kilometer (0.62 miles) of track on their heads. On TV, it looks scary, but you don’t really appreciate the human aspect of it till you see them go by you upside down at 80 miles per hour (134 Km/h). There is nothing but gravity to stop them and negative gravity doesn’t become a factor until the end of the course where the track goes steeply uphill.

Between each run, maintenance crews swept the track. Canada’s best sled after the first run flipped on the second attempt and ended up on the back of a truck. Nobody was hurt from any of the teams that flipped over during the competition that we saw that day. The next day, after 2 days of competition, Germany won gold and silver, Russia won bronze.

A sad sight, but it is part of the sport and nobody was hurt. The same sleigh and riders competed the next day and finished 15th overall. Not bad, considering that they completed their second run upside down.

Copyright © 2010 David G. Kelly

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