Today is the day I have most been looking forward to. We have tickets for the Men’s 1000 metre speed skating event at ‘The Big O’ – the Richmond Olympic Oval. I cannot wait to see this sport up close and gain a better feel for the speed at which the athletes actually skate. First up, though, is an editorial meeting. I spoke with my editor, Neil Campbell yesterday and he told me during the call, he had a new idea he wanted to go with for this week and he would tell me about it at our meeting today. Of course my interest is piqued as I wonder what Neil has up his sleeve. Jeff and Joey have decided to head out early this morning in order to visit Stanley Park and The Vancouver Aquarium. I find myself wishing I had more hours in the day. I have been so immersed in my Journalism Dream there hasn’t been time for much else. Jeff and I talk about returning to Vancouver so we can enjoy more of the bounty the area has to offer.
10:00 am – John, Stacey and I head downtown, to the Waterfront Centre to meet with Neil. I have decided, in my mind, that Neil’s idea is to feature John’s photos more prominently with less space for my writing. I hope that to be the case because John is so talented.
11:00 am – we are waiting for Neil who is a bit behind schedule. He arrives about 20 minutes late and we get down to business. His idea? To have me write a narrative piece for this Sunday’s special edition, rather than the journal entry style he had prepared Geoff (the other writer) and I for ahead of time. I am excited about this change, but then I am put on the spot when Neil asks me to “In ten seconds give me your thesis on these Olympics.” Wha-ha?? Crap! I scramble and come up with something that vaguely passes for a thesis. John backs my idea up and the support is appreciated. Neil likes the idea and makes a couple of suggestions to help flush the idea out more fully. John doesn’t get nearly as much focus and is told to “keep doing what you’re doing.” I think we had both expected a bit more input or direction from our editors but, being both very independent, having a lot of leeway is very nice for John and I!
12:00 pm – Meeting over, John and Stacey head off early to Richmond to do a bit of exploring. I take some time to have a slow lunch and scribble some notes, working out different angles and making reminders of facts I need to check out later.
1:00 pm – I hop on the sky train for the ride out to Richmond. As we get further south on the sky train a tremendous mountain comes into view. It is Mount Baker and it is absolutely stunning. With the stunning views of mountains and ocean, it is very easy to understand why so many people call the west coast home.
1:45 pm – I exit the train at Aberdeen Station. It is about a 2 km. walk to get to the Oval but the walk is right along the water on a path that has been created on the dyke. It is a stunning walk. Float planes are landing on the water, the mountain views are awesome (in the truest sense of this word) and it is a clear, beautiful day. I pause for a moment to admire the scenery and, out-loud, I pronounce “WOW!!” A couple of fellow speed skating goers sort of smirk at me but I ask them “How can you not appreciate THAT?” They continue walking on and I decide they must be from the area and are blase about their surroundings. That or, they are either Tibetan or Nepalese?? But still!
2:00 pm – I join the line-up that has formed at the Oval. I have heard the doors will open at 2pm. I want to get in early because the athletes will be warming up and practising and will enjoy watching this for awhile without a throng of screaming people around me. The facility is beautiful but I have heard, for the skaters, this is slow ice. I love the sport but have no idea what makes the ice slow or fast. Another bit of information I will have to research. Right now the men are out on the ice and, HOLY CRAP!, do they ever fly around the rink. If this is the speed in practise, I am now even more pumped to watch the heats for the actual event.
I spot Canadian skater Jeremy Wotherspoon on the track and get excited. He is an incredible athlete and this event will be his last. After the Olympics he will be retiring from the sport. I am also happy to see Canadians Denny Morrison, Francois-Olivier Roberge and Kyle Parrott on the ice, along with Apollo Anton Ohno and Shani Davis, both from the USA. Davis is very focused and while the other competitors take a moment to exchange a few words or pat on the back, Davis is in his own zone.
4:00 pm – the event is about to get underway. It is a packed house and there are hundreds of Dutch fans and, much to everyone’s delight, with Dutch skaters comes a Dutch marching band called Kleintje Pils. Yup! Who knew?? They are a small band (in the realms of marching bands), just twelve members but oh they are mighty! And hysterical; especially when they break out with Queen’s “We Will Rock You”. Again, I ask: who knew??
The event gets underway and there will be 19 pairs to skate and best time wins. This fact is astounding – each competitor gets one chance to do their absolute best to win the gold medal. That’s it; all of their training, hard work and preparation is channelled into slightly more than one minute of time! ONE MINUTE! Shoot. In hockey and baseball the teams play best of seven games. There are some distances in speed skating that do qualification heats but it must be some kind of athlete and person who pours themselves into the 1000M event! I love this event. I get so excited and nervous watching each pair. It turns out there are many family members of the Canadian speed skaters sitting right behind us. I meet Jeremy Wotherspoon’s aunt, parents, girlfriend’s parents and the mother of women’s speed skater Anastasia Bucsis. Anastasia is only 20 years old and this was her first Olympics. Her race went yesterday and she placed 34th, but her mom is about as proud as a parent can get. Wotherspoon’s family are lovely and I particularly enjoy chatting with his aunt.
As the pairs continue on, the times are getting faster and faster. The announcer tells us that, heading into the corners, the skaters can hit speeds of up to 60 kilometres per hour. Okay, I knew they were going fast, but 60 km/hr??? They almost could fly, with the right equipment. Shani Davis is in the last pair and he is heavily favoured to win. He is paired with Korean skater, Joon Mun. Two Canadians, Wotherspoon and Morrison are in 13th and 14th place, so we arae out of medal contention but they were fantastic to watch and appreciative of the support from the crowd. Right now the time to beat is 1:09:12. This was set in the 16th pair by Korean Tae-Bum Mo. his pair-mate, Chad Hedrick clocked in at 1:09:32 and is sitting in second place.
Davis and Mun are at the starting line. You can feel the excitement and nervousness in the air and I am glad to not be the only one anxiously watching the event unfold. The starter adds to the nerves and he moves in slow motion, or at least speaks in slow motion. I assume this must be a standard for competition but it is hard to get used to the “REA…………..DY”. The starter goes off and the men push hard. It is edge-of-the-seat exciting. People are screaming and Davis and Mun are going at a great speed. Going into the last lap, though, Mun has lost some steam and falls behind Davis. The last 200 metres are all about Davis as he cruises across the finish line in 1:08:94!! Woo hoo!! What an amazing end to another amazing day.
Photos by John Fearnall. Check out his site: Good Noise Photography. He rocks the camera rather spectacularly!