2010 Flashback: Olympics offer hometown lessons

Popular American political satirist interviewed Liberal MP

With the 10th anniversary of Vancouver hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics upon us, we are looking back at some of the stories that were making the news in the Courier during those 17 days in February.

This story was originally published Feb. 26, 2010

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In three days, it will all be over. Crowds will disperse. Tourists will go home. Protesters’ time in the international spotlight will be over. Lineups will dry up and Vancouver may return to its reputation as the town that fun forgot.

But what did we learn about ourselves during the 2010 Winter Games and what did tourists learn about us? During visits to some of the city’s hot and not-so hot spots, the Courier discovered a few Olympic legacies.

We like lines

Canadians may be syrup-sucking iceholes, but we’re an orderly bunch. That’s one lesson American satirist Stephen Colbert likely picked up on the first of two days of filming for the Colbert Report by Science World during the opening week of the Olympics.

By 7:30 a.m., on a cold, clear Wednesday morning, a long lineup of polite, well-behaved but eager Colbert fans snaked along the path towards Creekside Park where the free show was being taped.

There was no need. No one was taking tickets. It was festival admission. Anyone who ignored the line landed prime viewing spots. But hundreds of spectators saw a line, got in it and didn’t question it. Even when coaxed, they were reluctant to leave it.

“People like lines. We gravitate towards lines,” joked one amused spectator eyeing the obedient masses from his enviable vantage point overlooking the stage.

Colbert, who parodies over-the-top right-wing political pundits on his wildly popular Comedy Central show, had already warmed to Canadian clichés. His stage décor, replete with fake snow, paid homage to stereotypes: skis, hockey sticks, penguins, a stuffed beaver, a stuffed moose and — appropriately for the ignorant and provocative character he plays — a culturally insensitive totem pole coffee table where he conducted his guest interviews with singer Michael Bublé, sports commentator Bob Costas and Olympic hockey legend Mike Eruzione, captain of the U.S. team that defeated the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympic match dubbed Miracle on Ice.

Meantime, the Vancouver crowd, swept up by Colbert — if not Olympic — fever learned during the taping that Ujjal Dosanjh (or at least his staff) has a sense of humour. The Vancouver South Liberal MP was featured in the “better-know-a-riding” segment — a knockoff of Colbert’s U.S.-based “better-know-a-district” feature, in which he spars with straight-faced politicians who play along with the gag.

Colbert’s crew first spotted Dosanjh in a CNN appearance talking about health care and later lined him up for the Vancouver Olympics-themed show.

Dosanjh wasn’t overly familiar with the faux-right wing comic. His son and young constituency assistant — both Colbert Report fans — convinced him to take advantage of the “Colbert bump,” where anyone who appears on the show, regardless of how they’re portrayed, gets a sudden popularity boost. The piece was filmed in Washington D.C. in late January, played for the Vancouver audience last week, and aired on late-night TV this week.

Standing amidst the crowd watching the show in Vancouver was a good-humoured Dosanjh. “Even politicians need to have some fun now and again,” he told the Courier.

Braeden Caley, his constituency assistant, handed out a limited number of specially produced keepsake pins imprinted with stylized mug shots of both men along with the text ‘Dosanjh Colbert 2010.’

Dosanjh’s take on post-Olympic fallout? “In B.C., polls said British Columbians were less enthused. When you do these things it always costs money. Nothing is ever perfect, but overall I think the world will walk away thinking Canada was able to put on a world-class show. We had a lot of fun.”

Games protesters likely won’t agree. They set up a few red tents on the grassy knoll overlooking the Colbert Report audience and distributed pamphlets, but the crowd seemed largely pro-Olympics, ambivalent or simply immersed in the Colbert love-in.

Ken Bell, a North Vancouver pastor who showed up at 6 a.m. for the taping, said it’s been fun soaking up the energy of the city, but he anticipated a post-Olympic letdown. “It’s going to be the same effect you have three days after Christmas—‘Oh man, we have to clean some stuff up now.’ It’s the same thing with a wedding day—three days after, you’re like, ‘Oh, it’s done.’”

Bell suspects Vancouverites will judge the Games’ overall failure or success on a single moment.

“Unfortunately, part of it will be about the colour of the medal for the men’s hockey team,” he said. “If we don’t win a medal in hockey it will be the worst Olympics ever,” joked Bell’s friend James Copp. It was only just before the filming started that the polite, dutiful Canadian clichés fell apart, before being built right back up again.

Security let spectators onto the grass in front of the stage, and the crowd surged forward, rudely knocking over barriers in its wake.

“Stephen! Stephen! Stephen!” they chanted as Colbert appeared.

“Now in French,” he ordered.

The crowd obliged. “Stéphane! Stéphane! Stéphane!”

We’re ready for Canada Day

Pre-schoolers fiddled with Winter Games-themed art projects early one afternoon at Dunbar community centre, oblivious to the Olympic snowboarding competition playing on the TV screen at the head of the table. Many were outfitted in red, Canadian-styled clothes thanks to their Games-loving parents.

Scotland-native Kate Hill wore a Canada emblazoned jacket, while her two children sported red T-shirts.

“I’ve been really enjoying it. To be honest I didn’t have much of an opinion about [the Olympics], but in the last few weeks, I’ve been caught up in it. It’s brought everybody together to support Canada. The kids are really getting in to it. They want to wear their Canada T-shirts every day.”

The family was taking part in one of the “community living rooms” set up in 23 community centres across Vancouver for people to gather and watch the sporting events with friends and neighbours.

VANOC gave each centre a 50-inch plasma TV and $1,000 to create the living rooms. This craft event was sponsored by Dunbar Memorial Preschool.

Natalie Brown, a mother of two, also admitted to being a last-minute convert to the Olympic spirit, egged on by her three-year-old son Nathan.

“My kid keeps trying to find Quatchi,” she said with a laugh, while adding, “I think there will be a lot of legacies left like energizing families to get involved in fitness, but there may also be a hangover so to speak. I hope everyone that’s come to the Olympics will come back. I’ve loved the fact that it’s been spring weather. It showed off how great our city is. You could go watch a snowboarding event in the morning and go golfing in the afternoon.”

Perhaps one of the more enduring legacies will reveal itself July 1 thanks to Olympics-inspired shopping sprees by families like the Hills and the Browns.

“I wasn’t going to buy my kids Olympic gear, but I went to Zellers the Saturday before it started and it was packed,” said Brown, who snatched up Canada T-shirts, hoodies and sweatpants for the whole family.

At the dollar store she “went all out,” buying Canada umbrellas and flags. “I’m hoping this brings a sense of national pride to the city. This Canada Day will be interesting. People will have their Canada gear ready to go.”

They really do like us

A wool, American-flag patterned sweater gave Sharon Burke’s citizenship away as she grabbed a bite to eat with her husband Bob at the Granville Island market. Ironically, Burke snagged the sweater near Robson Square a day earlier, not in her home-base of Alamo, Calif., 25 miles east of San Francisco. The couple travelled north for their seventh Olympics and first Winter Games.

They’ve also visited the Montreal, L.A., Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney and Beijing Summer Games.

Sharon and Bob Burke
Californians Sharon and Bob Burke gave Vancouver’s Olympic Games an A-plus for friendliness, fun and convenience. Photo Dan Toulgoet

“Here’s how we judge Olympics,” Sharon said. “Can we get around? Vancouver gets an A-plus. Can we have a good time partying? I would give it an A-plus. Can we get tickets? Vancouver gets an A-plus, although some were bought on Craigslist.”

The Burkes took in hockey, ice dancing, curling and short-track speed skating. Other highlights included meeting French figure skating pairs Yannick Bonheur and Vanessa James in the hallway after watching them perform live on ice in the Pacific Coliseum. They didn’t place very high in the competition, but were among crowd favourites.

“It’s the opposite of Beijing,” Bob said of his Vancouver visit. “It’s fun, it’s hospitable, it’s welcoming. It’s a much better atmosphere, it’s more cordial. Everyone in Canada is so friendly.”

The Burkes also picked up some all-important trivia — Sharon had no clue basketball great Steve Nash, songstress Joni Mitchell and actor and Parkinson’s activist Michael J. Fox were Canadian until they arrived in Vancouver.

Of all the Olympic Games they’ve attended, Bob said Sydney ranks the highest. “But this is the closest to Sydney in terms of cordiality and ease of getting around.

“You should be happy you had it. You’re showcasing the city to the world,” he added.

Sports, religion make curious mix

Crowds of people flocked towards B.C. Place along Robson Street for one of the Games Olympic victory ceremonies.

A blue sign outside a brick building tempted passersby with free coffee, hot chocolate and a warm dry place to watch the Games or surf the Net.

Inside, few took the bait on this day. Earnest volunteers, staffing informational tables, waited for visitors to enter the Archdiocese of Vancouver, a stone’s throw from B.C. Place and adjacent to the rowdy Alberta House.

It’s part of an effort dubbed “radical hospitality” to welcome the world — Catholics and non-Catholics alike — to the Vancouver Olympics and beyond and “to see Jesus as both guest and host at these games,” according to Archbishop J. Michael Miller as quoted in the B.C. Catholic newspaper. Early this evening, the centre, which is open from noon until 10 p.m., was nearly empty save for a handful of volunteers. Only two men watched a hockey match at one of six large round tables seating nine.

Volunteers insisted the object wasn’t to drum up visitor statistics.

“We’re not trying to sell anything, we trying to offer a bit of respite. We don’t have any goals or targets of how many people [come in],” explained 31-year-old Dan Lazar.

Displays included Buying Sex is not a Sport and an information table from one of the church’s partners in “radical hospitality,” More than Gold — a Christian organization also aimed at spreading “faith-based hospitality.”

Martin Corpos, a 28-year-old who flew in from San Francisco with a friend, stopped in briefly in search of an Ash Wednesday mass, while inside several young female volunteers chatted among themselves.

“We’re not trying to evangelize. We’re trying to share our faith,” said Joy Gomez, 23.

Hazelle Santa Cruz agreed. “Evangelizing is not just converting people, it’s being hospitable. All Christians are walking Bibles in everything we say and do,” said the 22-year-old. “It’s fantastic just to get the world together. The one thing that draws us together is our human nature.”

Hometown tourists are wary of downtown

Mae Haight, sitting at the McDonald’s at Main Street and Terminal opposite Science World, watched Canadian Christine Nesbitt win a gold medal in women’s 1,000 metres in speed skating on one of eight large plasma screens affixed to the walls of the newly renovated fast-food restaurant last week.

Haight was having a snack before heading home to watch hockey after spending most of the day drinking in Olympic spirit in downtown Vancouver.

“The last time I was downtown was 10 years ago,” said the 62-year-old. “And this was my first time on the [SkyTrain] ever.”

What kept Haight, who lives close by in north Burnaby, away from the centre of the city? 

“Downtown to us was a negative. We hear about the nightclubs, the shootings and the rowdies on the street, so we shied away from it,” she said.

This trip bought her to the Olympic Cauldron, Robson Street and the Plaza of Nations. Most of the people she met along the way weren’t from out of province or out of the country. They travelled from nearby cities across the Lower Mainland, often for the first time in years.

“We’re tourists in our own town,” Haight acknowledged. “Right now you feel safer. [The visit] has changed my opinion. But would I come down if the Olympics weren’t here? Probably for a concert, but I wouldn’t make a special trip just to go downtown.”

Sitting beside Haight at the McDonald’s was a couple from Pitt Meadows — Lidy and Ron Kok. They rarely visit downtown Vancouver, put off by troubled areas such as the Downtown Eastside and parking hassles, but they made an Olympic exception.

“It sure looks beautiful now,” said Ron, who came by West Coast Express. “They cleaned it up good. If it stays like this I’d probably come back.” Lidy agreed. “We’re not really city people, but if there’s a good reason to come downtown, we will.”

noconnor@vancourier.com

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