Barbara Ferry, the director of National Geographic Libraries and Information Services, is in Vancouver with her family to watch the Olympic Games, and offers a glimpse of the international antics on the sidelines.
Most outdoor Olympic venues have two levels of tickets – “A” level for assigned seating and “B” level for standing-room areas. The latter ticket holders arrive very early for the best spots – my family showed up three hours before women’s luge on February 15 and we nailed the prime spot in front of the Vancouver 2010 sign on the track, hundreds of feet closer than the more pricey seats in the stands. At other venues I’ve seen ticket holders in the stands join the fun on the ground, either for a better or sunnier (warmer) view.
Aside from being closer to the action, being on the ground means you are in the center of roving bands of nationalist party-goers, all seemingly trying to out-do each other with costumes, noisemakers, signs, and flags. In a class by themselves are the Canadians, who make up the vast majority of ticket holders at most events. They are the quietest of the national groups until their athletes are on course–then they turn on sheer power of their numbers with bells and flag waving that can drown out any other national group. Only the Netherlands came close at speed skating on February 15, with their de rigeur orange hats and shirts and enthusiastic cheering–they were clearly organized for the events with block seating and organized cheers.
The Americans showed up by the dozens with large red cowboy hats at Lindsey Vonn’s now-famous Olympic gold downhill run on February 17. Some had matching Vonn jackets, Vonn flags, and Vonn posters. The American flag was worn everywhere at the downhill race–one gentleman without a shirt donned it as a cape to ward off the freezing weather. The Swiss arrived with, appropriately, the largest cow bells I have ever seen–more than a foot long and wide, their gong was more akin to a deep drum than a bell.
The Germans were enthusiastic biathlon participants. One small group wore Kaiser-like pointy hats and large fake handlebar mustaches. An Olympic Games volunteer said the same group had showed up at every biathlon event dressed that way during the week. The Finns brought flags on poles tall enough for the athletes to see from what seemed like anywhere on the course.
Kids got into the partying mood at the five-hour women’s and men’s biathlon double-header by chasing each other through the woods for better views above the heads of the crowd and sliding down a near-perfect sled hill near the competition (a few clearly-experienced Olympic-kids actually brought their own sleds). Only when the favored Finns crossed the finish line did the thousands of enthusiastic crowds disperse.
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Food is also a big item at the events. Contributing to the party atmosphere, Molson Canadian beer is available at most events and food varies from “Bobs in a Sled” (a meatball sub) to Pacific salmon chowder, a creamy, redder, West-Coast version of the East Coast New England clam chowder. One group of post-event exhausted kitchen workers showed off their tiny truck-kitchen and posed for this photo. They had served 8,000 meals that day for biathlon ticket holders–and another 4,000 for volunteers, staff and athletes. Now that is a feat worthy of a gold medal!
Without a doubt, having so many nationalities in close proximity (and so much beer flowing) could cause some old rivalries to flare up–but not at these Games. Here, everyone is just trying to get in on the fun.
Photos: Barbara Ferry