Olympics. Second Day out. Ogden, UT 02/12/02

I confess that I have had misgivings about this trip for months now. In fact, almost from the time we discovered we had tickets - I didn’t expect to really get any interesting events, so I didn’t expect to be going - almost from the time we received notice we’d gotten tickets and actually committed to go, I’ve been concerned what kind of trip this would be. After all, Utah is (from my perspective) run by religious fanatics, and the bribery, scholarships and random sex acts that apparently GOT the Olympics here suggested it was a huge boondoggle and little or no consideration would be given to athletes or spectators.

So it was with a certain amount of trepidation (outright paranoia at times) that I have approached this trip. When Monday the 11th rolled around, I expected to be more uncomfortable. However, having watched the Olympics on TV Sunday and found myself (and Marcia) looking at places saying “We’ll be THERE. Up in those stands someplace.” I have to say that by the time we left, after the usual amount of morning grumpiness, I was actually getting guardedly enthusiastic.

Monday’s drive was without a hitch. We chose to break what map quest described as a 10+ hour drive into two days, so after 6 hours driving on Monday (including various stops for food, bathrooms, and gas) we stopped for the night in Rock Springs, Wyoming.

Rock Springs is, if memory serves, a mining town. Clearly there’s not much money in that these days, as the town isn’t very busy on a Monday night, and the Whitehill Mall there was practically dead - very few surviving businesses. Pretty depressing, if you consider what it must be like to live there. The Ramada Limited we stayed at, however, was quite nice - clean, comfortable, quiet. All the things you want from a motel. At $75/night, entirely reasonable.

In the aforementioned dying mall, however, was one of the first gems of the trip. We found the KayBee Toys that Time Forgot. Honest. I haven’t seen the Billy the Talking (and Singing) Bass toys, along with the Jaws shark, and a lobster I hadn’t seen before, since Christmas of 2000. And the pegs are equally loaded with antiques. Honest to goodness, we found Generation X figures on the pegs, reasonably priced at $3.34/each. Marcia also found the “peeing cat” Barbie (yes, it pees, no I don’t get it) she has been looking for since this past Christmas, in quantity (albeit at a non-reduced price. Some of the toys and figures in the store were literally ones we hadn’t seen since moving to Colorado 6 odd years ago.

And at the end of the day, once again, we watched the Olympics on TV. Again the trepidation went down as it became obvious from watching the SLC based local newscast that Salt Lake City *has* made the commitment to infrastructure to make this work.

So this morning when we set out, we were actually looking forward to getting here. And that’s when we discovered that the Mapquest directions had *grossly* overestimated the time it takes to get here. From Rock Springs to the home we’re staying in in Ogden took us about 3 hours. We could have made this trip in one day. Still, the drive was beautiful - Western Wyoming and Eastern Utah are beautiful places, utterly unlike Western Utah, which was all I could remember. One begins to see why the Mormons chose to settle here.

Of course the smog was a surprise. The entire area is blanketed in a temperature inversion that has resulted (along with all the additional traffic) in a smog layer thick enough to obscure the mountains. Marcia says the look of the place reminds her of Pasadena.

So here we are, in Ogden. After a breakfast and lunch of fast food (Burger King and Wendys, respectively) we’re at the house of a friend of my stepfather’s - Mrs. Herem, who generously agreed to let us use her guest room for our entire week’s stay, gratis. This is saving us literally thousands of dollars in hotel bills, and literally helping to make this trip possible. (okay, we probably would have gone ahead and gone to the Olympics once we were awarded tickets, but it’s very likely we’d have had to pare down what events we went to, or drive some ridiculous distance every day. Mrs. Harem’s generosity has been uniformly above and beyond - we’re total strangers to her except by relation. It bears mentioning that we did try to repay her generosity to some extent by putting new light fixtures in the basement to replace ones which had been damaged by previous tall guests interacting with the low ceiling. New, fluorescent, low profile, plastic-lensed lamps.)

Dinner tonight was at a diner called Wingers. Marcia had a bacon-cheeseburger, and I had the fajita salad. What surprised us both was the quality of the meat - Marcia’s burger patty was obviously hand made, irregular, but not too thick, and very tasty, with some of the best bacon I’ve tasted in recent memory on it. My salad was somewhat less impressive - it’s hard to get good veggies in this part of the country in February, but the chicken in it was delicious. They also had a number of adulterated sodas, including vanilla root beer, which both Marcia and I had. These meals, plus deserts came in at less than $27.00. Fascinating cuisine, no, but good, well made, and cheap.

So. Tomorrow. Our event(s) for tomorrow are men’s and women’s biathlon, both sprints. This will be our first encounter with Olympic security, which frankly we’re a little intimidated by, but since the Olympics would make such an obvious target for terrorist morons that we understand the necessity, and are planning for it. (Intelligent terrorists, if there were such a thing, would definitely not attack a venue that would irritate the entire *world* at one stroke.) So, no pocketknife, expect long lines, and so on. Still, biathlon is a sport I at least could have participated in, once. I used to cross country ski, and I’m a pretty good shot. Nowhere close to Olympic caliber in either one, but at least they’re sports I’ve played, which is closer to me than most of the others. Perhaps after watching it I should try to convince Marcia to cross country ski with me. I think she’d get into it.

Anyway.

Olympic spirit. That is what this whole exercise is about, isn’t it? I mean, if we wanted to see the events well, we’d stay home and watch it on TV - the seats we have aren’t great. But what we’re hoping to find, hoping to see, hoping to feel - why we’re here, in short, is to experience something beyond what you can get on the TV broadcast. To be a part of the fleeting culture that is an Olympics, that brief moment when everyone in one place from a hundred different nations and cultures manages to get along, get together, have a sporting event, and a really big party. We’re here to experience that - I suppose you’d call it hope. I find that as I grow older, hope for the future becomes more valuable, more precious. Perhaps I’ve outgrown the cynical casting aside of hope. Perhaps it was a culture I never really embraced in the first place. But my generation was the last born under the specter of the cold war turning hot, and the human species passing into extinction because of that difference of ideology. The kind of hope that came when the Berlin Wall fell is a positive sort of addiction, I think.

But back to the Olympics.

I remember during the cold war that the Olympics were perhaps the only time we *saw* our cold war opponents, the Soviet Union. And while yes they were disciplined, focused, brilliantly trained - especially the ice skaters - and despite the rather jingoistic media coverage of the day, they somehow looked like 20 somethings doing what the Americans were - trying to give the performances of their lives and win Olympic gold. I think it humanized them in the eyes of the time. Some times I think that perhaps the agreement to compete in the Olympics may have been more pivotal than is obvious in the cold war ending peacefully. My hope ot that end, is that the summer Olympics in Beijing will cause similar humanization of the Chinese to the cultures of the West, so that we need not have another cold war. The time for such things has passed, hopefully. In this light, to me, it is a statement of hope that Iran has a team here, and rather ominous that Iraq does not. And it would be ironic, wouldn’t it, if in the final analysis, the Olympic boycotts of the 1980 and 1984, though peaceful actions in and of themselves, were more dangerous to human survival than the military posturing of the day.

Part of the Olympic culture, or so we’ve read, is the pin trading scene, and so we’ve come prepared with a dozen pins from our most recent trip to Disney World. Some of them are Year 2000 specific and no longer available. Others are basically a cutout of Mickey’s head with the colors of the flag of a specific country enameled on them. They’re nice pins, and as far as we’re concerned, they’re trade fodder. We’re hoping to get some actual team pins, as well as the weirder pins, like the polygamy pin - in which all but one of the olympic rings has been turned into the sign for females and one has been turned into the sign for males - and if it exists, something to the effect that “I was frisked by security at the 2002 Olympics.

But I think there’s more to the pin culture than just funny or cool looking pins. I think - well I hope, really, since we haven’t *done* this yet - that perhaps it’s kind of like counting coup was for Native American tribes. Look. I have gone to this other culture and survived. Look, I am not afraid of the stranger. So my thought is that hopefully the ones you trade with become as important as the pin itself. Otherwise one might just as easily (easier, probably) purchase the ones you want in the inevitable post-Olympics e-bay auctions.

The organizers of this whole show are even participating in this pin trading culture - when the number of shuttle busses they could beg, borrow, or steal and get away with fell short by 10, they began offering a special pin to the first 5000 people to walk the one mile hike from the park and ride to the ski jump event site. A stroke of brilliance, in my opinion - for the cost of a few inexpensive pins, they headed off what could have been a logistical mess that would have made the papers. Those 5000 people were 5000 less the bus has to carry up. Of course, they still all had to get *down* again, but that’s at least less time sensitive. No I don’t know if Pickabo Street won or not. We don’t have a TV where we’re staying.

Finally, it bears noting that since today is the 12th, the 5 month anniversary of September 11, 2001 has come and gone at a place which one would almost expect the followup incident to occur. And nothing, apparently, has happened. Maybe we are accomplishing something with this whole Afghan war business. Perhaps the doctrine of making terrorists pariahs to the nations that would host them, we can take the first step to being safer. Obviously it’s only one step - putting Afghanistan back together as a modern nation will take far more work - and far more intelligent handling - than even the Marshal act reconstruction of Japan. Despite the cultural differences, Japan had been modeling their society after the Europeans for decades, since their first contact with the English in the 1800s. In part this even caused the militaristic empire-building mentality that brought them into World War Two. Afghanistan, culturally, seems mired in feudalism, or even more primitive tribal cultures, for whom every affront requires escalation. One need only look at the country before the Taliban came to power to see the results of that. This will take time to fix. I think the people there are appropriately motivated to fix it, but we have to stay with them, even after it’s no longer politically expedient. Terrorism feeds on instability. People in stable lands have too much to loose. Khadaffi proved that.

But that is a different essay. It’s late, we have to get up at 5:00am tomorrow (ew), so it’s pretty much bedtime. More tomorrow.

2/13/02 Ogden, UT. Olympics

Exhaustion. Disappointment. Getting up at 5:45am was rough, no two ways about it. The drive to Soldier Hollow was rough too. An hour and a half’s drive each way. Soldier Hollow is the furthest venue from where we’re staying. It’s outdoors, and it’s cold. Rough. Again, no two ways about it.

Soldier Hollow was apparently the afterthought of all the Olympic venues - the one place where they could get the right terrain, the right altitude (there’s a limit to how high the course can be) and so on. According to our announcer this morning, Soldier Hollow was the last venue to be placed, selected after some of the others had already begun construction. The end result was that the place looked like a neater and more tidy version of a Ren Faire - it had that temporary feel to it. It probably will quietly cease to exist once the Olympics are over, leaving only (perhaps) the bridge the skiers pass over, and several pedestrian bridges.

This same lack of planning about this venue appears to have extended to the placement of the stands relative to the sprint course. The stands are a-frame shaped, and one side faced the start, the finish, the penalty loop, and the shooting range. What did the other side face? Um... the sun? And alright, part of the track - a downhill portion where the skiers were resting a moment, letting gravity do some of the work. That was what our A ticket bought us. The problem? From our vantage points the skiers looked about 3 inches tall, it was difficult to tell what colors they were wearing without magnification. Also, all of the “in stands entertainment” was focused on the other side of the stands. So not only was there less for us to see, but we were virtually ignored by the entertainment team as well. I suppose I should be grateful we were at least warm(er) for having the sun.

That said, there were a few things to praise. First was security. They searched all our bags (fanny packs) and scanned me with the handheld metal detector. They did it quickly (less than 10 minutes in security) they had enough security personnel (dozens of lines) and the people we had contact with were absolutely unfailingly friendly and enthusiastic - as utterly unlike the surly, inefficient, overloaded jerks that normally fill that role at pretty much every airport I’ve been at. Also the pre-event information was interesting, well presented, and, to their credit, the SLOC did put two huge video screens, one for each side of the stands, and this was used to maximum advantage throughout the pre-event and the event itself. Another positive. I have never seen so many porta-potties in one place, and they were reasonably clean and odor free. Whatever else one says about Soldier Hollow, one can’t complain about waiting in line for that.

The mood of the stands themselves seemed to be a little bleary, and not very enthusiastic in the cheering for *anyone*. Which was kind of sad, since as time passed we had a number of athletes in the stands with us - two German men, several of the American women who were to run in the next race - which we also saw - and a contingent of Russians - probably coaches and such. (Everyone was clearly labeled as to where they were from, but not necessarily what they did.)

The upshot of the experience is that we took in the men’s 10k sprint, and the women’s 7.5k sprint. It’s probably a pretty exciting event, but the parts we could see of it weren’t really worth it. We left early from the Women’s race, having grown fed up with our seats, and with standing and getting a much better view. In all fairness it probably deserves to be said that biathlon isn’t a great spectator sport. This is one where staying at home and watching TV would have been better. They were announcing they’d sold 14,000 tickets, but I suspect that a certain number were, unlike ours, attached to packages. We saw the biathlon because we wanted to see it. We paid extra to get A tickets to it, so we could sit down. (B tickets let you find a place to stand and watch). No differentiation between sides of stands was made to us. In short, I’m afraid we felt ripped off.

We did have fun - I mean, it was still exciting to be at our first Olympic event, to watch the stuff that makes it to TV happen (although the whole 4 hours probably got 5 minutes on the telecast) and a lot of the hardcore fans were terribly entertaining - the Norwegians and the Germans, especially. So as Olympic experiences go, it wasn’t terrible, but it didn’t measure up well to what we expected. And all due to poor planning on someone’s part. Hopefully tomorrow will be better.

Oh, nothing interesting food wise - ate overpriced hot-dogs - two hot-dogs, an order of nachos, and a candy bar cost us nearly $20 after a substantial wait even during the Women’s event, and $15 for a package of roasted almonds mit goo and a bottle of water. We’re talking SERIOUS gouging, worthy of Disney World - and drank the Salvation Army’s free water. Dinner was miscellaneous at Sizzler. Also unremarkable.

Since my last entry mentions Pickabo Street, I imagine it has now become obvious to one and all that she didn’t do so well in the final event of her career, but that she got a really nice sendoff just the same. Also, thankfully, the Korean short track skater who was hurt colliding with the wall can apparently move all his extremities and is listed in stable condition pending x-rays to make sure he didn’t break anything. Sport wise, the young guy from Sweden (the Harry Potter look alike), as you undoubtedly know, proved that his victory in the 90k was not a fluke, and won - by a nose - the 130k ski jump. Where do I get this fast breaking information? Hell, NBC’s Olympic coverage, same as everyone else. Those of us watching the events don’t get any special information about other events.

Generally speaking, thus far at least, when one is here seeing it, the Olympics feel much more disjoint - like the collection of sporting events they really are, rather than one unifying expression of culture expressed in n+1 different peculiar winter sports. I don’t know whether this is true, or because we’ve been to one event in the middle of nowhere that nobody really cares about much (except by the teams and their friends and 14,000 variably passionate fans). I am beginning to wonder if perhaps the whole Olympic Spirit thing might not be in part from the way it is presented to us on TV. I still suspect it isn’t JUST that. I hope.

Olympics 2/16/02

As one might guess by the rather large delay in updates, time has continued to get away from me, until now. Now it’s over, and Marcia is taking a nap, so I have some time to recount the events of the last 2 days.

February 14th was our busiest day at the Olympics. Another 5:45 wakeup and scramble day, but all to indoor venues. First was Women’s ice hockey. We were expecting a game like the ones played by Japan and Korea 4 years ago. Entertaining, but not very intense by teams that needed practice. What we got were Germany and Finland. I understand Finland goes up against the United States tonight and I expect them to give the Americans a run for the money. Both teams, the Americans and the Fins, however, steamrollered the Germans. I’m not really clear on why - the Germans have a fantastic goalie, and if the rest of the team had matched her skill they would have owned the ice. But they didn’t. None of them were as fast as the Fins, and occasionally a loose puck would sail past one of them and just be watched. Also the Germans lacked team coordination. Frequently one of them would get the puck and begin her run against the Finish goal, only to be fairly easily checked by one of the Fins, and have no-one to pass the puck to. The Germans also racked up a disproportionate number of penalties, including ones I’d never heard of, like improper equipment, too many players on the ice, and so on. My opinion of the German team is their coaching hasn’t been very good.

The Fins, on the other hand, were an efficient, well oiled scoring machine. They out-shot (shots on goal, not scores) the Germans by about 300%, had a total of two or three penalties the entire game, had excellent speed and coordination. And so they won, although toward the end of the game the Germans did get one goal in, which was cheered by the spectators as though they’d won the gold. I suspect the Americans may have their hands full tonight.

The second event we saw on the 14th was the Men’s figure skating final. I’ve never been in a stadium the size of the one it was held in. There were some 25,000 of us watching - or would have been, had the seats been all filled. Frustrating, since we found out that *after* we ordered our tickets, apparently the SLOC discovered that there weren’t enough tickets being sold for the closing ceremonies and so they pushed all those of us who had A tickets into B tickets and re-sold the A tickets in a package with the closing ceremonies. Slimy. Now granted, it reduced the price of the tickets by a considerable margin (I’m told we saved about $1000 thanks to this) but it’s frustrating to discover such things just the same. Moreso since we ordered as early as humanly possible to try and *get* A tickets. Mores still as the event went on and a significant number of those expensive A ticket seats went empty while we watched from a considerably greater distance.

That said, we had an excellent view of the ice, as well as the bench where skaters wait to get their marks, as well as the TV commentator’s box (as Marcia said, she’d recognize Scotty Hammilton’s bald head at this distance even without binoculars - with them she could tell whether he needed to shave.

Men’s figure skating has recently (since perhaps Lilihammer) become one of my favorite Olympic sports. This coincides with my living with Marcia, a devotee of the sport since childhood (it was, after all, her dream to see figure skating that started this process). It also coincides with a sharp increase in the athleticism of the sport - first with triple-triple jumps, then with the pursuit of the quads. While I confess to enjoying watching Women’s figure skating more, this probably has a lot to do with that pesky Y chromosome - watching athletic young women in (frequently) close fitting costumes in the midst of literally astonishing feats of strength and dexterity - and apparent ease - does it for me more than the men’s skating does. But it became apparent to me a while ago that if you want to see the future of Women’s figure skating move wise, look at what the men are doing. And while looking I discovered there are a few men who I actually enjoy watching them skate. And thankfully, in what is probably his last Olympics, I got to see one of them.

Elvis Stojko has been Canada’s standout Olympic figure skater for 3 Olympics now. He has a unique style, answering the question of “so what is it I should do with my hands while I skate” by incorporating martial arts style and motion into his routines. He’s graceful and powerful, and I appreciate that he continues to skate his own style despite the fact that artistically the Olympic judges have consistently hated him. I admire that kind of stubbornness. He brings a somewhat masculine style to skating with it. I remember the first time I saw him skate and the contrast at the time was huge. He was fast, he was strong, he didn’t get too artistic. Refreshing.

Elvis is still a blast to watch. He lacks some of the exuberance he had 10 years ago, but then, so do I. But the style is still there, and he’s obviously gone even deeper into it, true to what he has always done. In truth he had no chance of medaling - the days when a male skater could medal without reliably landing at least 2 quads are gone. Elvis biffed his first one. A pleasure to see him skate, and I hope he continues in the sport, but unless he can get into his quads the way the younger skaters do (more on this later) I think he might want to consider going pro. But it was an Olympic dream for me to watch the man skate. A greater pleasure to see him land triple combinations - three jumps. Amazing.

The skating in general is rather different from how it looks on TV. On the TV coverage you only get glimpses of the full size of the ice. It’s huge, and the skater is required to use the whole ice. As one might expect, it takes a lot for one skater to effectively fill such a huge space - a sense of theater, good choreography, big gestures, passion. Even in the seats up in heaven where we were you can get a sense of that much more from watching the man on the ice than you can the closeups - which were temptingly on the big screens above the ice. As the night went on, it was all too easy to watch the video rather than the man, to allow NBC to preprocess the skating for me. I also missed the commentary - I’m not a skating expert so I can’t name the jumps and don’t know the programs the skaters are attempting ahead of time, and more frustrating, I can’t name the music many of the skaters were skating to, except one part of one of the Russians’ routines - which turned out to be the Jawa’s theme from Star Wars. I felt old there - the John Williams music from Star Wars is now so old that the more obscure parts of it are something one would ice skate to.

This Russian, the silver medalist, also got my award for silliest costume - he looked like an extra from Flash Gordon. Had he chosen music from the Queen soundtrack to the movie it would have worked. With his medly of movie soundtrack and opera music I felt it kind of clashed. It also didn’t work with his dance moves (Marcia’s comment was “it worked for Katerina Witt”. It worked for him, too. Clearly the judges are sending a message - they want men who can dance, and they want men with a sense of theater.

The gold medalist had all those things, and he could land quads all evening. He missed nothing, he made the quads look easy, he also had 3 jump combos, and he could dance, incorporating some moves reminiscent of ballet - and of fencing - in his routine. His answer to the question “what do I do with my arms”. There was no question in the stands that we had seen the gold medal performance, and the entire stadium went nuts. Gratifying, since he was, after all, not the American skater. And while the man skated with the precision and fire that the Russians always have (And here I’m using “Russians” in the generic, cold war sense, since many of the skaters I associate with the old Soviet team were actually from what are now separate nations - I’m speaking here of the classic Russian Olympic style, the coolness, the slightly aloof impression, and the dazzling precision, strength, and grace) when he was done, it was clear he was ecstatic with his performance. Another thing you don’t usually see on TV - when the athletes know they have given an excellent performance, or get recognized all up and down by the crowd, they *react*. They remind you that they *are* human beings. I think perhaps the Olympic triumph of gold medalists is frequently muted by not showing the humanity.

Another “Olympic Moment” was when one of the Chinese skaters fell. He fell a lot - it was clear he was having problems with the pressure, since he landed nothing more than a double. And the last of his falls he banged up his knee and whacked his head on the ice. And for a moment he stopped, down on one knee, probably considering quitting. And then he got up. And he finished his routine, with each jump, each success - modest though they were, because while he might have been feeling less pressure he *was* injured, was greeted with huge applause. As though we the spectators were supporting this man’s display of guts and determination. He got as much applause at the end of his routine as either of the American competitors. He was not the best, not even close, but he had something else. He showed courage. He showed resolve. In the face of certain defeat and pain, he got up and he finished. And we the crowd respected that as much as championship ability. He was very gracious with us as he limped off the ice, his knee obviously not supporting his weight well.

The Salt Lake Ice Center (Delta Center) is a lovely venue. Well designed, clearly engineered to handle the obscene number of people who are coming and going - in both senses, it had a large number of bathrooms - and as I described earlier, even though we were in second class seats and high up in the sky, we could hear well, see all but a small amount of the ice well. It was difficult to read the print on the scoreboard due to the size and our distance, but the marks themselves were clear and plainly readable. And it’s a beautiful facility on the outside. So much so I took pictures.

When we got back to Mrs. Herem’s we basically staggered downstairs and collapsed into bed. A fun, but very long day. Dinner, by the way, was at about 3:30pm at a nice Chinese restaurant called Xiao Li, a Szechwan place between the park and ride stop and the ice center. Wonderful stuff. I had the Kung Pao chicken, and while it didn’t live up to its fiery reputation, it was very flavorful and tasty and had a pleasant bite heat wise.

2/15/02

Yesterday was semi-downtime for us. Unlike the previous two days, the day began decadently late (8:30ish) with a relaxed breakfast and some chatting with Mrs. Herem. Our only event to attend was the medal ceremony at 6:30pm, so we took some time to get a good lunch, finding a Togos (a submarine sandwich place Marcia adores, which we had not been to since we left California in 1996). The medal ceremonies plaza is quite an attractive piece of architecture (as the paper said, not bad for a place that was a parking lot a year ago) and unlike previous Olympics, all medals except figure skating were given there. It’s a separate event (with a separate ticket, naturally). So we arrived at 5:30pm for a ceremony at 7:00, and watched the warmup band(s) - Millhouse, and Native Roots, the former being a cover band that does a reasonable impression of Credence Clearwater Revival, and mostly raps for their own music; the latter being a Native American Regge band. You won’t see either of these bands on MTV anytime soon, I don’t imagine. They were ok. The MC was Steve Young, former NFL player. He actually did quite a good job of it, far better than than Tracy whatzisnutz from Saturday Night Live, who either missed rehearsal and was winging it or was too drunk to do a good job - he was about the least funny comedian I’ve ever seen. In any case they attempted to entertain us until 7:30.

The problem was the cold. We had a light wind blowing across the stands, and combined with single digit temperatures we got a VERY low wind-chill factor. This after a fairly warm, sunny day of walking in the plaza. It made for a miserable experience. I do confess that the pseudo-religious ceremonies were given a much more captivating treatment than the usual “award ‘em where they lie” utilitarian treatment other Olympics have given them, but it’s hard to appreciate it when the first thing that springs to mind on seeing the Olympic flame is “I wish I was closer to that, I’ll bet it’s warm.” It’s also nice to see the athletes get their recognition from tens of thousands of fans at a time. But man it was cold. We didn’t stay for the Smashmouth concert that followed - up close they were deafening even though we were out of the stands and on our way out by the time they started playing. From 3 blocks away they were audible. And they suck.

At this point I should talk more about pin collecting, since it consumed a certain amount of the 15th’s activities. Olympic pin collectors are very much like cel collectors. They come in a wide variety of styles, some are completists, some are not, some collect pins worth hundreds of dollars on the secondary market, some, like us, collect ones we like. Each official Olympic pin set us back about $8. Pin trading is part of the culture as well. Some of the best pins I came away with were traded with others on the 15th, including from people with whom the only words we had in a common language were “Trade pins?” and “That one.” or just pointing. I got one from Nagano 1998 and another commemorating Nagano and Sydney from two gentlemen who’s nationalities I can only guess at. This was kind of fun. I also got one of my favorites - the Gateway Bobsledding Cow - for a fairly common “I saw the games” pin. Do I care that I may well have gotten rooked on the respective values of these pins? Not a bit. For me, pin collecting is very much subjective - do I like the pin he’s offering more than what he’s asking for? If so, I’ll trade. It’s all terribly friendly, and often the hardest part was saying no thank you to people who didn’t have any pins I wanted. My pin collection is currently pinned to my hat, which wasn’t terribly waterproof anyway. It’s canvas, after all. Yet another use for my favorite traveling hat. I have to say that the official Olympic pins are among the most beautiful - works of art in their own right. A tad expensive at $8 a piece (or more) but again, how many times in your life do you get a keepsake from a once in a lifetime event. Thousands, okay, I saw a LOT of Olympic pins this week, but even then, the double handful of pins we bought and traded for all told probably set us back a hundred or so dollars. Which is less than we spent on official Olympic hot-dogs, I’m sure, and which will be enjoyed far longer and cause far less intestinal distress. And since a number of people asked me to bring them some token of the Olympics back, I can get rid of any pins that in the sober light of being home loose their luster. It’s all good. Marcia didn’t manage to trade any of her Mickey Mouse head flag pins, so I may ask her for the German one. It’s sufficiently cool. I may have to trade for it. :)

2/16/02 Men’s superG.
It’s now the 22nd of February, I’ve procrastinated finishing this for long enough. I’ve had an excuse though, I’ve been sick with a nasty cold. 1.5 million people share germs and porta-potties, and the result is predictable. I’m feeling better though.
In any case, on the 16th, at Snow Basin, at 10:30AM on Saturday, was the superG. This was the last event we attended, and arguably the most fun. Our seats were fantastic, we could see almost all the way up the hill, and what we couldn’t see on the mountain itself (things like the start house) we could see on the monitor. The day, after an absolutely freezing start at the park and ride, was sunny and warm despite being 27 degrees Fahrenheit. Even with sunscreen, we both got a bit toasted. It’s a very very fast race, with athletes blasting down the hill every 2 minutes, and then every minute for the lowest ranked ones. I don’t recall much beyond that, it’s been too many busy days with too much olympics on TV since then.

2/22/02 Home again.
Obviously we’ve been home now for some time, but between school and being sick this is the first time I’ve had to sit down and write, and to reflect on the Olympics. I keep reading back to the beginning of this travelogue, and thinking that perhaps I was expecting more of the Olympics than was possible. Am I disappointed? Actually no. Going into this, I was expecting some lofty encounter of cultures, some higher ideal. What I got was, perhaps, even better. 1.5 million people from every nation imaginable, all managing to be friendly and get along and take in some really good athletic competitions. Hardly the lofty “Olympic Spirit Experience” that the media likes to sell, but in some ways I have to think it’s even more hopeful than that. In an artificial “something beyond ourselves” environment as it’s sold on TV, it’s easy to get along with people with stark differences from yourself. The event itself calls you to rise above petty concerns, to get along, to stand with your fellow man and woman. This? This was sports. This was hockey fans, and skating fans and luge fans, there to watch good sports, yes, but also to drink beer, have a good time, and all the things you associate with sporting events. And everyone *still* managed to get along, despite disparate races, creeds, colors, languages, every imaginable difference between people. For the athletes, the Olympics is the top of the world. For us spectators, it WAS the world, in its utter mundanity of daily living. Despite the lack of loftiness, I found it a very hopeful experience.