Opening ceremony — Observations from inside out

Submitted by Mark Reynolds

To borrow a quote from Charles Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

That is how I would describe two nights of Olympic opening ceremony experiences. The first night was the full dress rehearsal held two days prior to the official opening ceremony Feb. 12. In appreciation of the volunteers’ contribution to the 2010 Winter Games, each received a complimentary ticket to attend the dress rehearsal and the option of purchasing one additional ticket for $50. I asked one volunteer if he would be attending and he said he had given his ticket away to another volunteer who was trying to decide which of her two children to take. That is “the best.”

Others were trying to sell their tickets on-line for a profit. Greed can bring out “the worst.”

The dress rehearsal included all the performers, plus speakers Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Premier Gordon Campbell and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson. The best was having the CEO of VANOC, John Furlong, say: “Welcome fellow Blue Jackets” as he stood on the stage in his blue volunteer uniform. He implored the audience to keep the secrets of the dress rehearsal so as not to spoil the surprise — no photos of any kind, please! So why would someone secretly video the show and post it on YouTube for all seekers to find? It’s that best/worst thing again.

The dress rehearsal was fabulous. The funny and notably charming part was that volunteers were stand-ins for the dignitaries and the athletes. They really threw themselves into their roles, waving to the crowd like they were each gold medal contenders. They were just the best. Leaving the venue after the event was a whole new experience. I was part of 10,000 people who spilled out one exit of B.C. Place to the sound of a megaphone directing all people to turn to the right to get to transit. The very next exit over, another 10,000 people were exiting and told to turn and walk to the left. You guessed it; the groups collided in a Mexican standoff of sorts. It was just another little glitch. Oh, and in case you were wondering, no, they didn’t rehearse the raising of the caldron that night. Their worst case scenario eventually came true.

Working back stage the night of the actual 2010 opening ceremony was also an adventure.

As I stood with my co-workers doing access control into B.C. Place, I was waved over by one of my co-workers to assist a well dressed man in an expensive business suit and sporting a Secret Service-type earpiece. He proceeded to show me enough credentials for his job that would probably get him access to 
the White House. He advised that he was in fact the driver for Arnold Schwarzenegger; the governor of California who had been in the torch relay that morning and was now in the stadium.
 He wanted to know if he could “please” come in and use the bathroom as he had been sitting in the SUV outside for most of the day. He also didn’t know when the “Governator” may be leaving and needed him to drive. At that point I made an executive decision to accommodate his request. I then escorted him to his vehicle and was thanked by the very “relieved” and professional gentleman.

A woman with obvious mobility problems limps toward our position. She appears to have a regular spectator ticket for the opening ceremonies and I’m wondering how a spectator gets into this secure area. Thinking she is the latter, I advise her of her options only to stand corrected when looking at her accreditation that says she is the head of the Dutch Olympic Committee. Oops! You just never know whom you may be talking to, so diplomacy is always the best policy.

Our team assists in getting the athletes into the stadium. We progress through the countries in alphabetical order all the way down to R for Romania. As the procession slows and comes to 
a halt by our post, the Romanian athletes start asking if they can sneak outside for a smoke. We let them go, players and coaches. I chuckled to myself as I assumed Olympic level athletes would be non-smokers. Worst place to stand – downwind.

The day is finally over, yet there is one more surprise in store for me as I ride the Sky Train home. I notice a young Indo-Canadian man around 20 approaching my position. My apprehension vanished when he blurted out: “Thanks for volunteering, you’re amazing!” That was about the last thing I expected him to say so I graciously thanked him on behalf of all the volunteers.

The Vancouver Olympic Games seems to have brought out the best in most of us. Go Canada Go!

Mark Reynolds is a former Ponoka resident living in Vancouver. He is a volunteer with the Olympic Winter Games and will file regular reports for the Ponoka News.