So far since the Olympic athletes have been arriving, its been a slim trickle of identifiable faces & a lot of "I think they might be an athlete" blank stares from us.
But Sunday, the party really started up for the majority of the hounds. A group of generally 5-8 of us that had been out all week for other athletes, were suddenly dwarfed by the never less than 15 and as many as 70 fans, lookie-loos & just arriving hounds from other locales. They were all there because the glut of NHL players were coming for the Olympic games came thru Vancouver's YVR airport.
The media was there. There was lots of Canadian, American, Swedish, Finnish & even a couple Asian media personnel around.
Things really started for us, Saturday late night when Peter Forsberg & various other European based Team Sweden players & the Belarus team came in. Foppa was an incredibly willing signer, very talkative & quite personable. For those hounds (myself not being 1, I was on a different mission at the time) that were there from the time he got into the publics sight, reports of 5 & 6 autographs per person were boasted. Even for my friends & I, who showed up to the party very late (literaly as he was heading out the door to the security area that you cant get them in) we managed 2 each. It was then off to rest up for Sunday.
Sunday morning I slept in, and missed a terrific signing session by Finnish star Miikka Kiprusoff. One of the locals pulled 10 items out of the scrum. Team Canada superstar Jarome Iginla was less receptive to signing and did maybe 10 total from all reports I heard for the crowd of about 20 people at the time. Jeff Carter, who came as a hopeful replacement signed for the hounds before getting the punt by Team Canada the next day.
By the time I arrived in the early afternoon more than a dozen players had come thru, some signing, some being rushed thru the protected Olympics only doors to awaiting vehicles well away from the public. When I arrived everyone was getting prepped for Alex Ovechkin, probably the greatest hockey player there is currently playing. A couple guys came out before him like Thomas Greiss & Joe Pavelski from the Sharks, then came the Washington Capitals posse. Nick Backstrom came over and signed quite a few, most people leaving with more than 1 item, while the other Alex, Alexander Semin ignored the crowd, along with Semyon Varlamov. Alex Ovechkin however did sign, barely. A crowd of 50 or so waiting fans & lookie-loos anxiously begged him to sign, and he scribbled his rushed minimal effort autograph on 4-5 items, I was lucky enough to get one. Sure it looks like crap, but I still value a BAD Ovi at $50. Which last time I looked is better than NO Ovi at $0
After that scrum we hurried over to the domestic arrivals to grab a flight with a couple Bruins on it. David Krejci, who signed only 1 per person got the crowd of 20-30 people warmed up. Then Patrice Bergeron, Team Canada member, came thru & the crowd seemed to double out of nowhere. I was watching for Marco Sturm who saw the crowd swarm his NHL team mate & he took the chance to try & leave. I went over for him & got 2, only 2 other people got him before he slipped out the door. As I got him I jokingly said "waited for Patrice to go before you made your move eh?" which he replied with a smirk "hehe, yeah". The crowd around Patrice was so thick I had time to get over to him & snag an autograph before he was rushed out by security & overzealous volunteers who pushed people around. It then was noted Eric Staal was trying to sneak away as well, but was nabbed by a few from the crowd before his handler declared he was done & shooed him away.
A couple small scrums for guys like Dan Boyle for Team Canada and Jonathan Quick for Team USA filled the dull hours in between, but for the mostpart, the mid-evening was slow.
Reports that Martin Brodeur & other Devils had slipped in nearly undetected surfaced which was met with disappointment by some & acceptance by others more experienced in hounding large events where you understand you cant be everywhere at once.
Next was Pavel Datsuk who was greeted by a pile of collectors, dealers & fans on the international side. Myself & a couple others who were late in reacting only got 1, while most got 2 or 3. While the crowd followed him outside hoping to crack him on signing again, we noticed other players coming out in the security area. We rushed over to the fence, which for some reason had been moved up maybe 75-100 feet on Sunday, making access to them more possible. Valtteri Filppula and others came out, came over to do interviews for Finnish TV & then signed willingly. I got 4 from Valtteri, before collecting my things & moving on to look for more. A handful of other Finnish guys including Joni Pitkanen, Jere Lehtinen & Tuomo Ruutu also came in around that time as well. My luck wasnt as good with them. Mainly because looking for items when your carrying 1500+ items can be time consuming. It certainly cost me more than a few times. Pitkanen & Lehtinen both signed but I didnt have the time to get into my stuff, get back into the moshpit of hounds & get them.
A series of bad decisions lead to me being shut out for a couple hours, even with players coming in. I chose to sit on Russian goalie Evgeni Nabokov for awhile thinking with only a couple of us still waiting, he would surely sign. But after 45 mins of him sitting talking to a fairly fat puckbunny, he ignored all autograph requests & left. While I was there getting kicked in the balls by Nabby, Team Anaheim came in (minus the Canadian guys). Selanne signed a few, Koivu signed some & the others got away either without being asked, or with Team USA personnel wooshing them thru the crowd.
A late night flight with a handful of Boston Bruins came in & I thought afterwards my luck was turning around....but I again made a foolish choice it seemed. I got in & nabbed 3 Zdeno Chara autographs, 2 Tim Thomas along with 2 Miroslav Satan autographs. Generally getting 5 autographs from the most recent major trophy winners liek Chara (Norris) & Thomas (Vezina) would seem like a great score, but they came at the price of missing more Red Wings players in Lidstrom & Zetterberg. At least I got SOMETHING this time, but I still felt a bit disappointed that the 2 Miro Satan autographs I waited an extra 5-8 mins to get might have cost me the 2 Wings stars.
There was 1 final group of the night. A large group that included a lot fo east coast guys. On the flight were New York Rangers stars Henrik Lundqvist & Marian Gaborik. Along with New York Islanders Swiss star Mark Streit, a few other various guys from the Tampa Lightning & other Rangers All in all, about 8 to 10 players. I came out of the whole debacle with 2 Marian Gaborik autographs and 2 Mark Streit autographs. Most of them didnt even come over, and Lundqvist signed maybe 4 autographs for the 20 or so people waiting at 1 AM before walking back to the vehicle that was picking him up & leaving.
That was the end of the NHL arrival main day. A small handful of guys arrived early Monday morning, most notably Daniel Alfredsson. He signed willingly for the fans that went out.
A lot of the Canadian Olympians did not come thru because private charters were picking them up at meeting locations & taking them in to our smaller airport in Abbotsford (about an hour away) along with a few other non-Canadian Olympic team guys. With no decent access, and lots of uncertainty on who exactly would be on them, we never took the gamble to head out there..which probably was for the best, but we'll never know. With a star studded line up that came thru including the likes of Crosby, Fleury, Malkin, Getzlaf, Perry, Kane, Toews, Seabrook, Keith, Nash and many more on them, it might have been worth the gamble to go out & try. But the uncertainty deterred anyone from trying.
For someone that is just barely 19 years old, Patrick Chan sure knows how to handle himself under pressure.
A World skating championship silver medalist in 2009, Chan has 3 Canadian championships already under his belt. After meeting him, I can see why. He exudes incredible confidence.
He showed up to YVR for the 2010 Winter Olympics with a throng of media there that might have been second to none for a solo athlete yet. Approximately 20 media members from television, radio & print were there waiting, and Patrick gave them what they were looking for. He spoke candidly & confidently. Suggesting a gold was a realistic goal if he just skated his program cleanly. Hard to believe the way he managed himself he was only 19.
When the media scrum was over, myself and several other autograph hounds & fans asked him to sign autographs, which he did quite willingly. However, his fire breathing baren spinster handler with him (a common theme with Team Canada staff of all sports it seems) violently squawked at him to only sign one & constantly was saying "you already got one" to myself & others. Patrick himself did not seem concerned by the autograph requests, which is the frustrating part. When nobody volunteers decide they are going to save the world by preventing autographs from being signed. Good work squawking troll, the world is a safer place now because of you.
In any case, he was quite accomodating & personable. Certainly gave me the impression that the pressure that likely is on him to perform here in Vancouver will not get to him.
Today was MY official start of the Olympics as far as competitions go. Today was the day hockey started playing competitive games. The women took to the ice today for the first ever womens Olympic hockey games to be played in the country that nearly singlehandedly built the sport, Canada.
An early day game between strong medal contender & 2006 Silver medal winners, Sweden & the top ranked country not in the commonly perceived "big 4" (Canada, USA, Sweden & Finland) Switzerland which is the 5th ranked IIHF team, ended with the Swedes winning 3-0 on the back of a Kim Martin shutout. The #3 & #5 ranked teams played a competitive game. Florence Schelling, the goalie for Switzerland kept them close, despite facing more than double the shots of her counterpart Martin. Sweden goals by Danijela Rundqvist (1st goal of the Olympics), Tina Enstrom & Erica Uden Johansson paved the way for the 3-0 victory. Sweden starts off with a respectable 3-0 victory, and Switzerland shows they can be taken seriously. It was a good result for both sides.
In the later game, the Canadian womens team (2 the defending time Olympic Gold medalists) took on the IIHF 15th ranked (only 8 teams in the tournament remember) team from Slovakia. The final score was 18-0. The haters of Womens hockey had lots of fuel for their fire with this result. The argument that womens hockey isnt competitive to have a tournmanet always rings out when Canada faces the bottom seeded teams. A score of 16-0 vs Italy last Olympics had people crying "why bother, its just going to be Canada vs USA as usual, theres no one else.", they claimed its not a fair sport to have an Olympic medal in because no one outside of 2 countries has a chance. Demands to have it taken out of the games were even suggested....of course, the fact that Sweden shocked the world & stole the silver medal was ignored by the "experts" who had openly criticized the sport as being a 2 team competition.
These same critics plead utter ignorance when you point out that mens hockey had the very same (in fact worse) hiccups on its road to respectability. No one talks about the combined 132-3 that Canada won the 1924 Olympic gold medal with. Nor the scores of 33-0 over Switzerland & 30-0 over Czechoslovakia. Canada even beat Sweden 22-0 in that tournament. The silver medalists USA won games by 22-0 & 19-0, ontop of their defeat of Sweden by a score of 20-0 in the medal rounds. EVERY country that lost by these absurd scores, with the exception of Belgium, has won Olympic medals since then, including gold medals for Sweden & the Czech Republic. Would those countries have ever won anything if the same naysayers now existed then whining that it wasnt a fair competition?? Perhaps. But more likely, no. You do infact learn from defeats like that. If for no other reason than to make sure you never lose that bad again, you become better. Eventually, you become competitive, and eventually, you become Olympic champions. I wont suggest Slovakia WILL win a gold medal ever, but they are on the right road to
Since the last Olympics theres been a few mild upsets, Finland beating the U.S. a couple times here & there, including a game just this past summer here in Vancouver at a prep tournament for the Olympics. Sweden beat Canada in a game. Is it LIKELY the U.S.A. & Canada will meet in the finals here in Vancouver? YES, very likely. No one will dispute that in the womens hockey world, not even the Swedes and Finns. They know they will need their A games to topple either of the powerhouses. That being said, history has shown it can happen, and it is happening a little more often now.
Sure, 18-0 is not a fun game to watch if you arent a fan of the team winning. Right now, the Slovak girls probably feel a bit gutted, but that feeling will pass. But they also now know what it takes to be the best. They now have a barometer to gauge their development level on. They have never had that level of competition before. They can now tell the rest of the world that they have played in the Olympics. They can tell the rest of the world they have competed against Olympic champions. Odds are, most of you that will read this will never be able to say that. I am quite positive if you polled the 21 girls on the Slovak team on whether or not they would do it again knowing the outcome, it would be an overwhelming 21-0 vote in favour of taking that chance again. For most or all of them, they might never get to face the greatest womens hockey players again, they may not get to the Olympics again. I'm pretty confident they will take an 18-0 loss to a powerhouse elite defending Olympic champion squad for no other reason than to say "we played the best there is. We might not of won, but we at least got to compete against them. " Its more than a lot of other countries can say at this point.
And isnt that really what the Olympics is about? Experiences?
Great thing about the Olympics is that you are going to meet tonnes of athletes you never even knew about before then.
For instance, a diminutive 5'2 rising star from Australia by the name of Britteny Cox.
Cox cmes to Vancouver Olympics as a 15 year old. She did not have any expectations of being here, her sights were set on Sochi in 2014. Yet she qualified for Vancouver & is just thrilled to be here.
I watched Britteny do a couple interviews for various media outlets, which she really seemed to handle like a real pro. At the end I asked her what her name & even was, she told me in such a soft shy voice, that I barely heard her the first time, luckily I had video running and was able to decipher who it was later on.
Britteny comes to Vancouver probably just happy to be here, thinking about taking this experience in to prepare her for 4 years from now in Sochi.
Australian fans should start paying attention to Britteny Cox, because come 2014 you might see her make it to the podium in Sochi, and a lot of that will have to do with her experience in Vancouver in 2010.
Today was supposed to be a day the City of Vancouver was going to celebrate. It was supposed to be the start of a 17 day party. Ignorant protesters who are determined to ruin a once in a lifetime experience for onlookers, veterans & schoolchildren dampened things, but the party still seemed set to be amazing. Then there was a report of a serious crash on the luge course in Whister. Soon after, news of the severity of that crash started to come to the forefront. And that party, that has been planned for several years, has been pushed to the back burner for now on the news that for the first time since 1964, an athlete has died in Olympic competition.
On the opening day of the 2010 Winter Olympic games, a 21 year old luger from Georgia died of injuries he received during a horrific crash in a practice run on the luge in Whistler, B.C.
Nodar Kumaritashvili, 21, from Georgia, a small country south of Russia was in his 1st Olympics & came here ranked 44th in the world. He likely was looking forward to this event since he was old enough to know what a luge was. He came to Vancouver, likely thrilled & amazed to be here, like many of the athletes I have met have felt. He maybe even had dreams of being in todays Olympic Ceremony that will take place under now with heavy hearts.
I met several lugers in the past few days as they came into town for their events. All of them were incredibly personable & friendly. All seemed thrilled to be here. I now wonder how each of them feels about this. It is one of their comrades that has passed away & in the case of some of them, like the recently blogged about Shiva Keshavan, they even witnessed it.
Several accidents have already happened on this course, deemed to be the fastest course ever. In fact Kumaritashvili had an accident just the day before as well. But like a true competitor, he went right back out there today. He truly loved doing this. Anyone that can rip down an icy corse on a glorified 1/2 toboggan with skates at around 80-90 MPH must love it, and to do it again the day after having an accident you must really love it.
I wonder if I crossed paths with him at the airport. I have probably seen hundreds of athletes there, but only have been able to accurately ID a few dozen of them. So many I have simply asked "are you an athlete here" & got a "yes" & I wished them good luck. It never crossed my mind, that it could be the last time I see them.
Nodar Kumaritashvili will be missed by many people. His family. His friends. His fans. His team mates. His competition. He will be missed by anyone who had anything to do with these games, even if they never met him or had any interest in the luge before today.
I have hounded a lot of sports, and people from a lot of countries. The other night, I obtained my first ever luge autograph, and my first ever autograph from someone born in India. I did both at the exact same time.
Indian luger Shiva Keshavan came thru & a small pile of media were eager to greet him, get some photos & interviews. Not knowing anything about his sport, or him, I was fascinated by the excitement of the mainly south Asian reporters who were even getting posed pictures with him afterwards.
I got him to to sign a couple Olympics postcards, just to say I got him, then went on my way looking for more athletes. I came back a few minutes later & saw he was still there, so I took the chance to snap a few pics of him before I left.
Afterwards I was more amazed to hear about the incredible journey recently for Keshevan (whose full name on the Olympic site is Shiva Keshevan Kannan Palan) just getting here. Just weeks ago he fractured a vertebrae in his back (as someone who fractured multiple vertebrae himself when he was younger, I know what an ordeal that can be) & was told by the doctors "dont race", but he told them this is what he had worked for the 4 years & was not going to miss it for anything. So he came, with a new sled as well. Another hurdle he overcame to get here was breaking his last sled recently. But thanks to the help of a few lawyers from his homeland who pooled the money together to get a new one for Shiva, he is in Vancouver & ready to compete. One of only 3 Olympians representing India at the 2010 Winter Olympic games, Shiva has been to the Olympics several times now. First competing in Nagano during the 1998 games, he was only 16 years old at the time.
I am sure at the end of the games, I will look back & think of Shiva Keshevan when people ask me if I got anyone interesting during the Olympics, because I am pretty confident I will never get an Indian luger autograph again.
On Tuesday the city of Vancouver had one of the biggest names in the winter sports world arrive, Lindsey Vonn, the supermodel looking superskiing star from the U.S. arrived to a throng of media, fans & autograph collectors all hoping for a moment of her time.
While Ms. Vonn was extremely classy is taking the time to sign autographs, much to the detest & constant pleading of her handlers not to, I found it interesting that she did not take much time to talk with the media themselves. Perhaps she found them to be too aggressive, as it was noted by multiple people there that the NBC team were physically pushing & pulling fans & other media members out fo the way to try & get their own shot. If I were Ms. Vonn, I too would have evaded any talk time with the American Olympic broadcaster.
Today it came out that Lindsey is suffering from a serious shin bruise & her Olympics is even in jeopardy because of it. perhaps this was part of what prevented her from wanting to stand around & do interviews?
What was clear from this breif encounter with her is that she was all class with the fans & autograph collectors there. Not leaving a single request hanging for a signature on any item, including brand new fresh off the shelf Sports Illustrated swimsuit poses.
So far these Olympics I have seen many athletes, most of which have been complete class, but Ms. Vonn really won me over considering the demand on her time, the insistence of signing despite her staff telling her not to sign & even physically pushing autograph collectors away from the 4 ft high glass rail securely seperating them from Ms. Vonn anyways. When you add that up with the injury shes working thru & the pressures of being expected to perform up here for the Winter Olympics, she really is a class act.
I hope for the sake of the Olympics & Lindsey, she can go in her events. The staff that Team USA employs, the station broadcasting the games for Americans might all be full of asses, but at least the athletes are still class acts.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.