Commentary

Olympic viewing can be child's play

Originally Published: February 23, 2010
By Jim Wilkie | ESPN.com

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- I've been eagerly anticipating the 2010 Winter Olympics since they were awarded to Vancouver back in 2003. For one, I grew up just outside of the city and still have family there. Plus, I simply find the Winter Games much more enjoyable than the bigger Summer Games. It's a Canadian thing.

But most importantly I would have a chance to experience an Olympics for the first time with my own family. Living just 150 miles south in Seattle, we'll likely never again get this close to such a massive global sports event. Even if my sons Jack, 7, and Luke, 4, might not retain many memories from the Vancouver Games, my wife, Kelly, and I would make some with our sons while they still want to spend time with us. It wasn't so long ago I remember holding a 5-month-old Jack when IOC president Jacques Rogge announced Vancouver had beaten out PyeongChang, South Korea. And it seems like yesterday that 9-month-old Luke napped on my chest while I lay on a couch and watched the highs and lows of the 2006 Torino Games.

Seeing the Olympics firsthand and seeing them through my children's eyes seemed a simple enough goal, but as everyone knows by now, some glitches always occur with any Olympic plans.

I took Jack to our Olympic introduction Feb. 16 for the Latvia-Russia preliminary-round hockey game at the arena formerly known as GM Place in Vancouver. After taking the SkyTrain in from the suburbs, and navigating the throngs of jubilant fans who watched Canada thump Norway 8-0 in hockey, it became clear the walk through Vancouver streets to the security check outside Canada Hockey Place was a bit too long for a 7-year-old's legs and patience.

Waiting in a holding area before the gates opened about an hour before the 9 p.m. start of the game, I started to wonder whether Jack could make it through the game.

Finally security allowed us to make our way into the arena, where the comfort of a seat and some food would meet Jack's needs. But for some strange reason, none of the Olympic-sanctioned food stands was selling popcorn, the one food item Jack wanted. Instead we shared some nachos and combined with the distraction of the game starting a crisis was averted.

[+] EnlargeAlexander Ovechkin
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesAlexander Ovechkin scored two goals against the overmatched Latvians.

Russian fans were out in force while the fewer but vocal Latvians were sprinkled in the crowd amid the friendly atmosphere. Vancouver has had a checkered history with Russians, who of course are the longtime international rivals of Canada. Vancouver fans notoriously booed Team Canada after it lost 5-3 to the U.S.S.R. in Game 4 of the 1972 Summit Series at the Pacific Coliseum. The Canucks' first true superstar, Pavel Bure, had a contract holdout in the late 1990s and forced a trade in the middle of his career. Soviet and Red Army superstar Vladimir Krutov was brought over while the Iron Curtain was falling but ate his way out of the NHL. Igor Larionov came to Vancouver at the same time as Krutov, but the Canucks let him go after three seasons and the Hall of Famer went on to play 12 more seasons and win three Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings.

Jack has neither political nor sporting prejudices and easily threw his support behind Russia mainly because he's currently using an Alexander Ovechkin stick in his mighty mites hockey league. Not just any stick, it's his first curved stick and after a recent four-goal game, Jack's impressive confidence practically rivals that of the colorful Ovechkin.

Any concern I had over Jack's waning energy was erased after each Russian goal as he jumped up, pumped his fists and cheered while Todd Rundgren's "I Don't Wanna Work" played over the sound system. I'm pretty sure it was the Canucks DJ's subtle tribute to Krutov and Bure.

While genuinely enjoying the action of the eventual 8-2 Russian victory, Jack was inspired to dance by the hope he would get on the JumboTron. Still, his Ovechkin-esque exuberance and childish enthusiasm were sincere and watching my son's uninhibited reactions made the lopsided game much more entertaining for me.

Jack never got his popcorn or his time on the JumboTron, but he soaked up the energy, enjoyed his first Olympic event and didn't fade until the drive back to my brother's house in Port Coquitlam.

The next day it was Luke's turn, but the tickets were for the men's 1,000-meter final in speedskating at the Richmond Olympic Oval. That meant taking a commuter train to Vancouver's waterfront, switching to the SkyTrain (it's a good thing kids love trains) and walking 1.3 kilometers to the venue. Making that long walk along the dike without much complaint was made possible by a glorious sunny day and the ambush marketing of a major credit-card company that gave out free hot chocolate across the street from the SkyTrain station. Priceless.

Spending a toonie ($2) on a small Canadian flag for Luke to wave provided a temporary distraction for the final kick through the maze of gates at the entrance before being allowed to go through security screening.

There was just enough time for some quick photos with Olympic mascots Quatchi and Miga before hitting the concession stand on the way to the seats. Like the night before, again no popcorn, so Luke settled for a pretzel.

[+] EnlargeDutch fans
Jim Wilkie/ESPN.comHe's Mr. Heat Miser, he's Mr. Sun. He's too much, but not too Dutch.

The dedicated and boisterous orange-clad Dutch fans were in abundance, and now Luke thinks Heat Miser is from the Netherlands. That explains the recent stretch of sunny days in Vancouver during the Games.

Nineteen pairs of skaters with a break and a technical error caused by feedback at one race's start made our stay a bit longer than expected. But thanks to the wave (a novelty for a 4-year-old), the energizing Dutch brass band Kleintje Pils, and attempts to catch squishy balls that could be turned in for medal ceremony tickets, there was plenty of action between races.

Luke, a dual citizen, would cheer loudest for Canadian and U.S. speedskaters who I'd point out to him. I don't know if Luke will ever appreciate witnessing U.S. speedskater Shani Davis win the gold medal but he can say he was there.

After the race, it was back to the dike for Luke's postrace victory ride on my shoulders on our way back to the SkyTrain station. A stop for fish and chips at Granville Island and finally we made it back to catch the West Coast Express train to Coquitlam. "More trains?" Luke sighed before he settled into the soothing ride that would ease him to sleep well before our stop and be the end of his marathon Olympic first day.

Jim Wilkie is editor of The Life and can be reached at espnpucks@comcast.net.