Monday, January 4, 2010

Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire

Where do I even start with this one? It’s been an incredible lead-up to my torch run, and now, in the blink of an eye, it’s all said and done. I’d hoped to create this blog in order for people I know to take part in the whole experience with me and share in my excitement and I’m hoping that’s what it has accomplished. I had also hoped to have people be able to watch me on CTV’s live torch camera while I ran, but apparently they cheaped out on their technology and couldn’t get it to work for most of Northern Ontario. I won’t even get started on that…so it’s back to the blog to finish things off.

So many things made this experience surreal and I don’t want to write a 5 page essay so I’ll try to keep it tight.

I’m not gonna lie to ya. Driving to Wawa wasn’t on my list of things to do for 2010. Unsure of whom I could convince to make the trip, I was really glad (and surprised) my buddy Jason and his girlfriend Stephanie decided they were in the mood for a road trip and were riding with us. Even more of a surprise was that my good friend Chris and his girlfriend Tracey, who both live in Toronto, were going to join us as well. I had only known that my mom and dad, and my girlfriend Jana would be my confirmed cheer squad in Wawa prior to finding out the convoy would be 8 of us. A lot to ask of everyone and I was pumped to learn that my friends wanted to join the trip. We geared up the truck, packed for a 6 to 8 hour drive, filled with toques, mitts, long johns and anything else we figured we’d need just in case since the weather network was calling for temperatures somewhere below minus 30 Celsius. A little anxious about driving Highway 17 West past the Soo for the first time, the drive was pretty awesome and not one I’d be wanting to do if the weather was shitty. Winding around Superior up and down the hills along the water was very picturesque with waves crashing into the rocky shoreline and along with the wintery mist, forming a frozen white crust over all of it. If not for wanting to just get to Wawa as soon as we could, and for fear of the icy winter driving that would have ensued, we surely would have stopped to watch the ominous frosty fog that seemed to be blowing in over the water towards us. I’ve seen much of Northern Ontario in my travels, but there were some spots along the way to Wawa that were out of a movie.

Our three truck convoy pulled into Wawa around suppertime, passed the giant goose and rolled into the Beaver Inn to take over the second floor of the hotel. The lady who managed the hotel was our first contact in Wawa and set the tone for everyone I got to meet from that town over the 2 days. She was very pleasant and excited for us to have come for the torch run and had already opened up our rooms and started the heater to get them nice and cozy for us. I figure the real reason she did this was to let the smell of 40 years of cigarette smoke from the now “non-smoking” rooms out so we wouldn’t notice as much, but aside from feeling like I smoked a pack of du Mauriers when I woke up the next morning, I had absolutely no complaints about our accommodations. After watching the Swiss upset Russia in OT, we made our way to the Embassy restaurant, which was suggested by the hotel manager. A typical Greek-owned local diner-style family restaurant, the owner, Tina came over and welcomed us with a thick Greek accent. When she learned of our reason for being in Wawa, her eyes lit up with excitement as she took great pride in the torch relay and Olympic Games due to her Greek descent. We got treated like gold, so we decided we had to promise a return for breakfast in the morning to Tina’s delight. We returned to the hotel so I could throw on some layers and go outside to see if I’d be warm enough in the morning with what I had brought. Bring on the cold!

5:30am came pretty quickly and I actually didn’t get that bad a sleep. A balmy -37, which became -44 degrees Celsius with the wind, (as I found out from my brother after getting home who had checked into it while we were in Wawa) greeted me in the morning, so in my fleece and long johns on top of fleece long johns, capped off by my paper-thin torch uniform and red mitts and Nikes double-knoted, I ran two buildings over to the Michipicoten Community Centre to register and get our marching orders and our torches, each one hand-assembled and signed by a Bombardier employee. I was to be third on the day to run, with a distance of exactly 400 metres – measured out by my dad’s odometer the night before on route to the restaurant. A straight-away, followed by a bit of an incline left turn, and finished off with another straight run to the finish. A good stretch if I had to choose one to run.

With six torchbearers in Wawa, Jamie from Winnipeg would have her torch lit first at the Community Centre and pass it on to Jerry, also from Winnipeg. I was on the torchbearer bus for the two first passes so I didn’t get to see those, but they dropped me at my checkpoint just minutes before Jerry ran towards me, so we didn’t have to wait outside too long and freeze. As Jerry from Winnipeg approached, a member of the relay organizing team, who I shall refer to as Torch Nazi, brought me to the middle of the road to get ready to get lit. Torch up high in the air and within a second a burst of flame and I’m ready to rock! While I tried to stall and get a pic taken with my mom who was at the beginning of my run adamant that I wouldn’t be without someone familiar when my torch was lit, the Torch Nazi did her best to get in the way and not let the photo happen and push me to start jogging, after telling me not to start moving yet so the live webcam truck could get a bit ahead – which was obviously useless. Bitch. I guess the other media on it used the vehicle as well. So off I went. My mom jumped back into her truck after a few expletives I’m sure and navigated around the torch route to be at the end before I got there, with Jana, bundled up like an Eskimo with a big fur hood, and Steph who held an awesome sign that Jana and my mom had made to cheer me on, and Chris and Tracey. Jay somehow made himself out to look like official media – complete with his own white uniform – and was able to jog just a couple feet away from me the whole 400 metres with his mom’s videocamera in hand capturing the whole thing as it unfolded start to fiish. He actually started at the Community Centre, filmed the first 2 torch passes and ran up to my checkpoint to film my entire run. All in -44! I don’t think Jay’s run a kilometer since varsity basketball practices at Cambrian! Awesome!!
And then there’s my dad.

After himming and hawing for the past few weeks over where he should be while I ran...

"Maybe at the beginning so I can see your torch get lit,
but I don’t know if I’ll be able to get a good shot,
so maybe I’ll wait at the end and take pictures of you
as you come towards us. Or maybe I’ll go part of the way down
and try to run to the end and take pictures of you or should I…"

-he did one better. Draped in a Canada flag and a huge smile, my dad ran right beside me, next to Jay and his video camera, stride for stride, beginning to end while providing a running commentary, talking to my brother on the phone, and making conversation with the torch relay team who run beside you to make sure you don’t drop the thing. I didn’t really notice the relay team joggers the whole way. I also didn’t notice the ridiculously cold weather for the most part. I had my dad letting me know that he was warming up, so I must be starting to warm up too. It was pretty cool I must say.

I jogged at a pretty good pace and once I got moving, there was no way I could change the pace since my legs just wanted to keep the blood flow and stay warm. I didn’t get a chance to even think about tripping or slipping – or highstepping the last 20m for that matter – since it flew by so quickly. I just wanted to make sure that I didn’t drop the torch or let it get too close to my toque since that thing burned like crazy! I also tried to acknowledge the people who came out to watch roadside and wave and cheer. I really had a great time with every step. Around the bend and onto the home stretch and there were my mom and Jana and Steph and Chris and Tracey, all freezing and cheering as I came to the end of my run. It was exhilarating. I ran up to Sam from the Soo to light his torch and begin his run, and that was that.
Back onto the torchbearer bus to see the last couple of torchbearers, the last of which being World War II local Wawa veteran Jack Myers. Jack was selected by the people of Wawa to be their representative torchbearer as a local hero war veteran. As I sat on the bus with Jack and we talked about how we all got there, he told us how he fought in the 2nd World War as a member of the Tank Regiment (5th I believe, in the B and C Battalion if my recent memory and war lingo serves me correctly). I mentioned to Jack that my grandfather had also been part of the Tank Regiment and when I said the name Stan McColeman, his eyes lit up and he immediately told me that they had served together in the same battalion and even had a camp near eachother. This totally blew me away, as my grandfather passed away before I was born so being brought together with an absolute stranger in a town I’d never been to who knew my grandfather really hit home and I went numb. It just added to the whole personalized enjoyment of the entire experience and really brought luck and fate back to the forefront of it all.
The people of Wawa really got behind the torch coming to town and lined the streets and waved from their living room windows especially in the residential area passed the local school on the way back to the Community Centre. When we got back, I wanted some pics outside of the Community Centre with my friends and family and then Chris made mention that a lady wanted a shot with the torch…and the line-up began. I was the only torchbearer still outside, so 20 or so pictures with families and Wawa residents later I finally had to ask people to go inside since I was freezing, and that there were 5 more torchbearers inside as well.
We stuck around for a few pics, snuck out of the craziness that remained and made our way back to the Embassy for breakfast as promised for a picture with Tina and the torch, then off to the giant Goose in the blustering wind for a few last tourist shots with the torch before packing up at the Beaver Inn and hitting the road to wrap up an incredible journey.

It finished off not upon my return home last night, but today as I got to show my brother the torch and suited up for one last time (I hope) in my torchbearer gear to get one last picture with Neil and the torch, just before we opened it up to check out the guts and for Neil to quickly determine that he could fuse the line back together, throw in a kerosene canister and get that baby burning again if we ever wanted to have the world’s coolest barbeque lighter. Ya never know. In the end, even though the torch burned bright for every step I had with it, it sure as hell didn’t keep me warm as I joked months ago to the Globe and Mail. What kept me aglow was the support and best wishes from everyone who shared their excitement for me coming from people I know across the entire country from coast to coast and beyond. Thanks once again to all of you and please know that you’ve made this experience an absolutely amazing and memorable one. Now make sure to follow the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games and cheer on our athletes and our nation!

Go Canada!

Monday, December 28, 2009

You Gotta...

Just a few days to go. This is getting intense!

With the high number of zany and creative people I come in contact with every day, including friends, family, and colleagues, this whole torch carrying event has made for quite the comedic banter. Whether it’s been the chuckling of the thought of me running through snow in January in Wawa, or the wise crack remarks about my training to run 300m, or the fact that countless people have asked me if I was really running with the torch from Sudbury to Wawa, and I haven’t corrected a single one of them – the conversations have been fun to say the least.
They’ve also resulted in quite the list of “You gottas” as I’ve began to refer to them. As in, “You gotta run full out!” or “You gotta do the moonwalk” or “You know what you gotta do? You gotta pretend to trip and fall flat on your face! That’ll get you on the news!”. So it got me thinking. And it got me asking. What would be the best or funniest way to get national media coverage of my quick run with the torch? Keep in mind that I do not plan to use any of the ideas given to me, and take the honour quite seriously. But since serious conversations are no fun, I figured I’d put it out there. So I did. And here’s what some of you suggested (PG rated version. R rated version had many variations of #6.) :

10. Get someone to pump out the theme to Chariots of Fire, and slow-mo the entire run.

9. Stop and stretch halfway with over-exaggerated lunges and toe-touches. Throw in a few groin stretches.

8. Blue Angel. ‘Nuff Said.

7. Find a downhill slope and krazy-karpet down it with the torch to the next guy. Only in Canada.

6. Dry-hump the giant Goose’s leg, flame in hand.

5. High-step the last 20 yards. Finish off with Deion Sanders Primetime TD dance.

4. Light a giant BC bud joint with the Torch at the end of the run to make it truly Canadian.

3. Have friends and family line the side of my 300m run with cups of Gatorade and water and wet sponges in hand for me to grab and dump over my head as I pass by.

2. Learn the art of fire breathing. Extinguish flame in mouth and breathe it onto next person’s torch.

1. Pre-arrange a line of gasoline to a terrorist escape airplane, fight off terrorists mid-run, barely crawl to the finish of my leg of the run, fall on the ground, light the gasoline stream with the Olympic Torch to blow up the plane into smithereens saying “Yippee kay yay motherf#cker”.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Do You Believe?

I went to go hang out at my buddy Jay’s place on Black Lake last night and it really got me into the Olympic mood. Even though my torch run is just under two weeks away, it was getting to take my first outdoor skate last night that really got me thinking about winter sports. Jay bought his place a few years ago and we’ve gotten on him every year to build a rink on the lake. It’s already geared with a wood stove, and an wickedly hot sauna (that’s “sow-na” for any visitors to the Jakola house), and the fact that it’s situated just 10 minutes outside of the city’s beaten path makes for a great summer or winter hang-out. This year, he went out on the lake early to gauge the ice depth. 4 to 6 inches, so it was good to go. So he made his way out with his shovel, a life jacket, and a couple of screwdrivers just in case he miscalculated, and he scraped off a beauty 100 x 52 give or take rink. If he clears a few trees next year and adds a bobsled run, I’m pretty sure Team Finland will do their training there. So I made my way over with my skates, stick and a puck and we ripped around for an hour or so. There’s nothing like skating on a frozen lake in Northern Ontario. Going to the playground rink only comes a short second since it has boards that you can try to blast pucks through, but there’s just something truly Canadian about being in the middle of the great outdoors playing the greatest sport of all. And as I decided to give that rink a little work-in, and really tear around it a couple of times skating counter-clockwise around the nice wide rink he built, checking every foot of his creation for cracks as the lake still bellowed as it froze across the middle - it got me thinking of how fortunate we are to have this at our disposal, and if this was how many of our athletes got their starts. Especially our speed skaters. The ones favoured to possibly be Canada’s first gold medals on home ice.

As most people know by now, thanks in large part to CTV’s commercials, Canada got skunked in the gold medal category at both Montreal in 1976, and Calgary in 1988. Montreal represented the first and only time to that point that a host country hadn’t won a gold medal at its own Games. Then came Calgary.
I obviously have no recollection of the Winter Games of 1976 since I wasn’t born yet, but Calgary’s Winter Olympics were perhaps my biggest introduction to the Olympics overall. I remember bits and pieces of LA in ’84, but the Calgary Games came just weeks before I turned 11, and combined with the Summer Games later that same year in Seoul, it made for a big Olympic year in my books. We walked away with only five medals overall from Calgary. It might be more appropriate to say that we double-axled away with 3 of the 5, with the other 2 coming on the hill thanks to Karen Percy. Those two figure skating silvers have become integral pieces to Canadian Winter Olympic lore, as the much-hyped “Battle of the Brians” gave us the Canada vs US men’s finals of Orser vs Boitano, while Canada’s sweetheart, Elizabeth Manley scrapped her way toe-pick to toe-pick with Katerina Witt. Ooooooh Katerina Witt!
We’ve since had better fortune at the Winter Games, with Canada’s Winter Olympic medal count increasing almost five-fold from Calgary to the last one in Torino where we ended up with 24. Exactly half of those came from dominant performances on the speed skating ovals. I, like most others believe that this is our year. Canada will finally win a gold medal on home turf. And I’m guessing that it too comes from a speedskater as our first. If Charles Hamelin doesn’t take the middle podium on Day 2 or 4 in the Men’s short track, then the ladies will have the next chance to be Canada’s first as Kristina Groves and Christine Nesbitt should have shots at the Women’s 1000m and 1500m on days 7 and 9. And if all else comes up less than gold, day 17 better friggin’ see Sid and the boys as world-beaters in the men’s hockey final.

Sudbury could actually see a gold medalist should the women’s hockey team win it all, with Tessa Bonhomme named to the final roster yesterday. The Big Nickel could also be represented by Megan Duhamel in pairs figure skating, and by Devon Kershaw of MTV Cribs Canada fame, making his second Olympic appearance in Nordic skiing. Not too shabby for a city of 165 thousand and change. If all three make it to Vancouver, it will surely be a memorable one for Sudbury, at a time where the city could really use some great news.

Speaking of memorable Olympics, because of the whole torchbearer thing, this one’s already climbing the list. It’s going to be awesome to see just how great Vancouver is as a host and I know full well that they will be with some friends and former colleagues working and volunteering there. It’s also going to be memorable because of the overall crop of talent that our athletes have heading into our Games. I can’t get away from the concept of lists right now and maybe it’s the whole xmas list thing that’s gotten into my head but it’s got me thinking of my favourite Canadian Olympic moments in no particular order.

Two of my most memorable moments for the Summer Games came from the track, though our rowers have provided for some awesome performances. But 1988’s 100m final will always stick in my head not because Ben got caught (or because Carl didn’t) but because it was so dominating. I remember the lead-up to the much anticipated Olympics with it being a US vs Canada battle as Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson exchanged victories in races prior to the Games. We all threw around our “predictions” of what the new world record time would be in Seoul and sure enough, at some point I guessed 9.79. The world never saw someone on drugs or no drugs move that fast until the past couple of years where Usain Bolt has taken over as the fastest human alive. Ben powered out of the blocks and had enough lead time to raise his hand in victory to shove it up the US’s rear end. For a few moments, it was that s,s,s,s,sweet.
Atlanta in 1996 was also incredible as Donovan Bailey pulled out of nowhere to smoke the rest of the pack for a new Olympic and World record, but it was the 4x100m relay that did it for me. Featuring sorta-Sudbury’s own Robert Esmie who was at the same highschool as I was, with “Blast-off relay” shaved into his head for the finals, the relay team started out with exactly that. Esmie took off like a shot from the blocks and with a clean hand-off to Glenroy Gilbert, raised his hand in the air sure of what was about to happen. Gilbert ran a strong 2nd leg to pass to Bruny Surin, probably Canada’s most consistent sprinter of all-time who powered though the 3rd leg and just barely handed it off cleanly to Donovan Bailey to take it home for gold. A pretty awesome race all around.

From the Winter Games, both of my favourite moments off the top of my head came from Salt Lake City in 2002. I remember watching Becky Scott’s incredible x-country ski race as she stayed with the lead pack for a chance at medaling. The hard-fought sprint to the finish to place 3rd was amazing enough, and after the 1st and 2nd place finishers were found to have used performance enhancing drugs, her gold medal shouldn’t be looked at as anything other than incredible.
And of course, the men’s hockey final of Canada vs USA, on US turf was absolutely incredible. We had gone and got our faces painted prior to the game, sporting red and white Canada jerseys and the flag as a cape and went to East Side Mario’s to watch it with the crowd on their big screens in the bar area. There was a draw for a framed Team Canada jersey and when a buddy pulled the winning name, I was on the other side of the restaurant talking to some people. All of a sudden I heard everyone yelling at me so I made my way over and Jax was holding my ticket in the air. The jersey’s been on my wall ever since. The game itself was pretty awesome with guys like Fleury throwing his body at the point to block a shot, and Sakic taking his game to that higher level he’s been known to, to put the game away at 5-2. During a recent interview, Wayne Gretzky was asked the exact point that he knew that the team he had selected in ’02 was going to win the elusive gold medal. He said that before the game, Yzerman was on the trainer’s table with ice on his knee, getting worked on, when he asked the trainer if Stevie Y would be okay to go. The trainer’s response was along the lines of “If this was Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, I still wouldn’t let him go out”. Stevie did of course and that’s when Gretzky said he knew that they would do whatever it took to take home gold. Legendary.

My ultimate moment, most recently was from Beijing, where I found myself watching the men’s triathlon somewhere around 2am EST. Simon Whitfield had put on a performance for the ages in Sydney by catching the leader in the last 400m or so with an incredible kick to take Canada’s first gold of the Games. But it was his race in Beijing 8 years later that still blows my mind. Whitfield didn’t seem to be within medal contention in the latter portion of the race, falling to the second pack, but with that kick he’d become famous for in Sydney, he left the pack to catch and pass the leader as they rounded the last corner to the final stretch. Disappointment soon turned to elation as it looked as though he’d pull off the most unbelievable feat of capturing a 2nd triathlon gold. I was literally on top of my couch, standing like Tom Cruise on Oprah screaming at my t.v. I in the middle of the night, fist pumping in the air trying to cheer him on from the other side of the world, along with a large proportion of our country I’d imagine. With a 2-man sprint to the finish, he was just barely passed by the German racer in the last 20 metres or so and would finish with the most impressive silver medal I’ve ever seen this country win.
I definitely believe. I think we’ll be believing right until the end of February where a couple of our gold medal favourites will have emerged as triumphant, and where some unlikely heroes will have gotten us standing on furniture.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

US $26,705.00 !!

Less than three weeks to go! Man is this coming fast.

This uniform thing’s become quite comical over this past month. As mentioned in an earlier post, I received a package from Purolator a few weeks ago which was supposedly my Official Torchbearer uniform. Being that this is a once in a lifetime experience, each little detail has grown in magnitude of its importance. It started with receiving word that I was pre-selected to carry the Torch. Then it was when I received official word that I had indeed been selected. Then it was Day One of the relay starting on the West Coast. And then, the uniform.

After unpacking the wrong uniform, I spoke with the lovely ladies at the torchbearer distribution centre who had apparently been contracted by VANOC to perform this role. Basically they have to look at the page I filled out with my track suit size, pop that into a box with my toque, a letter of congrats, and of course, the red mittens and ship it off to the mailing address on my form. Pretty straight forward if you ask me. I’m not generally one to bitch about people being a little incompetent, as long as they’re trying (okay, perhaps that’s a bit of a fib), but this whole uniform exchange has been ridiculous at times. I volunteered to work at the Canada House where the Canadian Athletes and mission staff were situated while I had some days off when I was working in Sydney and guess what part of my role was… Yup, I was one of the guys who got to take the form with the athlete’s name, size, etc etc and put together his/her Roots bag of Roots Team Canada gear. Like 20 or 30 pieces or something altogether. Not rocket surgery. Plus I got to meet quite a few of our Olympians so it was very cool. So I figure getting 4 pieces of clothing into the right box with the right address was doable. Anyway, people make mistakes, and I don’t run ‘til January so I figured it could be fixed quite easily. After playing phone tag with the folks at the distribution centre in Vancouver, they finally notified me that Colleen from Carman Manitoba (who is carrying the torch on Day 70 by the way, so make sure to follow!!) had received my package, as I did hers so we could just send them to eachother and problem solved. Instead of just giving me Colleen’s contact, and her mine, we were told to make this switch through the info provided to us via our trusty distributors who tried to get me to Purolate her package to a P.O. box, which Purolator doesn’t do. So I had to jump through hoops to get the distributor’s Canada Post account info, so I wouldn’t have to foot the bill, and finally mailed it away. Colleen on the other hand sent mine with apparently the wrong mailing address given to her by our friends in Vancouver, so Purolator called me yesterday to get the correct one. Got in touch with Colleen and we’re all set, so thanks to the great folks at the distribution centre for carrying on the spirit of the torch relay by bringing people together. Then the box sits on the Purolator truck for 4 days in Sudbury as I try to track the damned thing and finally gets delivered to my parents’ place, capped off by my mom browbeating the driver for slacking.

Crack the box open and pull out uniform number two and thank god it’s the right one! “CONGRATULATIONS JOEY!” read the correct letter this time which was a relief. It also instructed me on a few details about how if my uniform didn’t fit, then too bad (already went down that road!), and what I should eat on the day of my run (for 300-400 metres. Really? I’m thinkin’ Wheaties.) and on what footwear I should use. The Olympics are a bit prickly about their branding issues and don’t want visible branding on you sneakers. Had a great little experience with some branding issues while working at the 2000 Games that I’ll likely post about perhaps next week that involved the stringent “no advertising” rules during the Olympics within their venues, so I take it that this torch run is no different. I’ll have to put some hockey tape over the bright red swoosh on my running shoes so they don’t get confiscated. With the recent weather, it might be hockey tape over the Sorel logo on a pair of boots.
The letter also said that I’m running at approximately 8:29am on January 3rd. So now we have a time too!

Anyway, I quickly try on the pants and jacket and boy do I look fast! Wind AND water resistant fast. A quick lap around my parents living room which can now count as my training, and snap the pic of the ol’ red mitten thumbs up- as a teaser,- then back into the box since my parents’ house is a whirlwind of flour and chocolate as my mom is up to her eyeballs in Christmas baking. Last thing I need is a food stain down my jacket. I’ve gotta say that the uniform is pretty spiffy indeed. Everyone’s probably already seen the torch runners on t.v. looking fine in their white track suits, toque and red mitts. The mitts actually have some grip silkscreened onto the palm in the shape of a maple leaf which was keen of the designers, since those things normally don’t hold squat - as anyone who’s tried to play road hockey or been at the local playground rink with wool mitts can tell ya. Good quality stuff, and the mitts are sold out right across Canada with everyone wanting to get their hands in ‘em.

But what do you do with something like this after you’re done with your torchbearing duties? I figure I can put some of the uniform into a shadow box or something along with the torch, or I guess I could use it for golfing on windy days like I have with my Sydney gear – ugly light blue golf shirts with bright yellow collar and one bright yellow sleeve. A Beauty! The bright blue raincoat with one long yellow sleeve hangs in my closet. I could try to get back into running but as also mentioned before – not likely to happen, though I could carry around a burning branch or a blow torch and recreate the whole ordeal each time out.
I suppose it would make for a good on-ice shell, though a bit pompous to wear it to the local playground rink. Maybe I could just bring it on trips to foreign countries and fib and tell people I’m an athlete. It worked in Sydney. Draped in the maple leaf more often than not, when the typical “Canadian Drinking Team” reply got old (though holy shit- did we represent!), I could thank my roommate Eric for looking someone in the eye without so much as a grin, and introduce us as the Canadian Synchro Diving team.

Or I could put the whole thing onto ebay, like this guy from Edmonton is doing for only $28 grand CDN! I had heard about some torches and uniforms going up for auction so I thought I’d take a look. A few up there for a couple hundred bucks, but this one takes the cake. I’ve checked out the uniform. There’s no gold or precious metal stitched into it.

Is this guy for real? He hasn’t even touched the torch yet and he’s already asking basically for a new car as a trade? He’s not even throwing in the torch. Plus – it’ll have been worn! To cash in on something this memorable like it was nothing is a bit offside I think. I’m willing to guess that nobody’s offered anywhere near what he’s asking for, but if I find out somebody’s approaching that 28 grand mark, I’m jumping in to offer mine for 25. I’ll even throw in the Sydney rain coat to make a combo for 50 grand. I’m pretty sure that a down payment on a house would cheer me up quite quickly ;) Going once…

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Now that's a FIRE!

There’s been a lot of rumour and speculation about who will light the Olympic flame in Vancouver once the torch has reached its final destination. From Canadian Olympic heroes, to celebrities to politicians and everyone in between, opinions differ from everyone you ask. Over the history of the Olympic Games that I’ve watched, the majority of final torchbearers have been pretty much forgettable, aside from a few key memorable moments. I barely remember a kid lighting the flame in Calgary in ’88 to symbolize the world’s youth coming together, but the Summer Games in South Korea were a bit more fantastic in the cauldron category that same year. I’ll never forget the doves being released as a symbol of world peace, then watching them rest on the rim of the Olympic flame cauldron, only to get barbequed upon ignition (fast fwd to the 4:30 mark!)

Barcelona upped the coolness factor by having a Paralympic archer sling a flaming arrow up to the cauldron to ignite the flame in ’92. Although he overshot and it was set up to light automatically, it still looked impressive and was pretty original. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the States in ’96 with their overcommercialized hillbilly Atlanta Games. Personally I was a bit disappointed that Eddie Murphy’s Uncle Gus didn’t douse the caudron in gasoline and let ‘er rip!

"Two gallons of gasoline, you kids roll up your shirt we're gonna start a fire!...He be alright. Roll Charlie ‘round! Roll him around!”

Instead, they provided for one of the classier flame ceremonies and definitely one of the most memorable with Muhammad Ali atop the stage as the final torchbearer. Ali, as Cassius Clay had won the gold medal in the 1960 Olympic Games but as story goes (and still debated), had thrown his medal into the Ohio river upset at racial prejudice after not being served at a whites-only restaurant after returning back to the States.

2000 took on a political approach to the final torchbearer in Sydney as well, as Cathy Freeman, the country’s aboriginal athletic hero lit the flame in an emotional moment meant to symbolize breaking barriers and destroying political issues that affected aboriginal peoples of Australia for years. The nation celebrated Freeman’s 400m victory just a week later cementing her status as national icon. This opening was obviously a memorable one to me as well, working for Sydney’s Olympic Games and celebrating a successful lead-up to the Olympics that Juan Antonio Samaranche would later declare “The Best Olympics Ever” for the final time in his reign as IOC President.

I also remember 2002 Salt Lake City’s Winter Games, probably because it was somewhat recent. The 1980 USA “Miracle on Ice” team came out and lit the cauldron together, which I guess was kinda cool to have a whole hockey team do it, although I still haven’t brought myself to rent “Miracle” and really have no desire to watch US sport propaganda. Maybe someday. 2004 in Greece was some windsurfer or something. I had to google it to check because I really couldn’t remember, so it doesn’t make the cut, and as for Beijing – I only remember the Opening Ceremony show as a whole. The spectacle of it all was pretty impressive, but the flame-lighting itself didn’t stick in my mind. Which brings us to Vancouver.

Pretty much every Canadian even remotely famous has been mentioned as a potential final torchbearer to light the flame in Vancouver this coming February. Nancy Greene, Terry Fox’s mom, Bryan Adams, the list goes on and on. You can pretty much bet that Vancouver wants to make it a memorable choice. I’d also bet that in the final bunch of torchbearers, you’ll see some familiar faces, and some Canadian Olympic medalists from past Games. Representation of our two official languages and recognizing our cultural diversity will have to be thrown into the mix as well I’d imagine. So taking rumour, speculation, a dash of common sense, and of course some fun into account, I see the final portion of the torch relay leading to the igniting of the official Olympic Flame in Vancouver happening sorta like this…

Jason Priestley enters the stadium on the back of Luke Perry’s motorcycle - all while the orchestra belts out Chilliwack’s My Girl - and hands off to David Suzuki. Suzuki, not wanting to take any blame for the torch’s air pollution, takes only a short sequence of carbon footprints, and quickly dishes it to all-time Canuck Captain Trevor Linden. Linden records his 493rd career assist by passing to Burnaby Joe Sakic, 2002 Olympic hockey hero who scores the torch. With a wicked flick of the wrist, Sakic quickly fires it past Mike Richter blocker-side over to Michael J. Fox as Bob Cole screams “Surely – That’s gotta be it!!” But Bob, there’s more! Not wanting to mimic Atlanta or show favoritism to Parkinson’s research, the ever-witty Fox sits down onto a rolling office chair à la the Family Ties opening (not the original, but the 2nd version I believe) and Alex P. Keaton’s it off to Cindy Klassen and Marc Gagnon who share the honor, each with one hand on the torch, and the other hand waving behind their backs to cut the wind resistance. In yet another surprising twist, the two speed skaters make their way towards Relic of the Beachcombers who log-rolls around the track to a waiting Pam Anderson in her best snow-nymph outfit grabbing the torch. Pam bounces up and down the bleachers a few times and runs up to Rick Hansen, who because he is at perfect eye level, takes his sweet time receiving the torch from Pammy. Hansen – Canadian hero and forever the man in motion, confirms many people’s speculation that he would be Canada’s final torch-bearer and wheels his way to a ramp which elevates him high atop the Olympic Stadium to ignite the flame that will symbolize Vancouver’s triumphant Games. Eddy the Eagle sneaks out from behind the cauldron and bombs his way down the ramp on skis, jumping into the crowd. Good show!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Go Long

Part of the RBC approach to the Torch Relay was the idea of “paying it forward” which is really cool on their part. They want to get as many Canadians involved with the spirit of it all as they can. To me, paying it forward in this circumstance isn’t just telling as many people as I can about carrying the torch, but bringing some attention to sport as a lifestyle, and public support for our amateur athletes.

In my torch bearer application, I eluded to having a true belief in supporting amateur sport, and anything that would get kids interested in kicking a ball or shooting a puck with a real soccer ball or hockey stick, instead of a virtual one and a Wii controller. I had seen how amateur athletes are supported and promoted in other countries in the world and felt strongly that Canada should adopt the same mentality. I was fortunate to be at a school who let us watch parts of the ’88 Games in class on a 27’ tv they rolled in on a cart and plugged into the wall with an extension cord. Why aren’t we trying to get our 11 year olds to develop national pride and support amateur sport role models today? There’s no reason for our world-class amateur athletes to remain anonymous. We should be getting excited about them. I met Jayna Hefford last year and she let me touch her gold medal! I’m 32 and couldn’t hold back the excitement of just meeting an actual Canadian Olympic gold medalist, let alone seeing and touching the medal itself. How the hell has Cindy Klassen not been plastered all over everything since she won 5 medals in ’06? Added to her previous Bronze in ’02 and she’s the most decorated Canadian athlete in the history of our participation in any Olympic Games! No need for me to even say the words “if she were American…”.

Let’s get some of this exposure to our youth. I’m not about to complain that we don’t have champions for sport involvement, and I’m fully aware of the time constraints that parents and teachers are under. My teacher friends remind me of it all the time. I’m just saying that it’s quite apparent that extracurriculars including art, music, and sports have taken a back seat. And since this is an Olympic blog, and since the lack of the arts doesn’t necessarily have to do with a physically healthy lifestyle – I’ll stick to the sports argument.
Does anyone remember the Canadian Fitness Program at school with the Excellence, Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Participation patches for meeting certain standards in physical activity? As Gordie so eloquently wrote the tidbit of Canadiana in Fireworks:

next to your comrades in the national fitness program
caught in some eternal flexed arm hang
droppin' to the mat in a fit of laughter
showed no patience, tolerance or restraint

I’m not saying to bring back the flexed arm hang, but some variation of these activities would be great. They never crushed anyone’s will for not winning excellence or gold. Okay, maybe a few, but they did give a Participation pin, which was basically the “thanks for coming out, here’s your duffle bag” of that time. Kids used to have sport in their culture. They were still allowed to have winners and losers and the lessons of each. They didn’t have to be on a team, or in a league to appreciate what it offered. It was FUN. I remember guys who didn’t even know how to run back in grade 5 or 6. Who doesn’t know how to run? They didn’t care. They took joy in just givin ‘er, looking like Mike Myers in the ‘hyper-hypo’ skit on Saturday Night Live from years ago. One of those guys ended up figuring it out that the arms and legs have to basically go in the same direction and was on his university track club years later. Red patch to that guy, I say!

Our elementary school didn’t have a track. Our version of the 400m was a lap around the school yard and the 100m was a measured sprint down Arvo Street – the dead end right beside the school. The only paved part of the St. Andrew’s schoolyard was a basketball court that was used for every type of sport you could imagine that required a paved surface. Basketball and handball dominated the warmer months, with ball hockey all winter. The school had enough hockey sticks and helmets with cages donated to fit a full class and the girls and boys could all play. As for the rest of the schoolyard – all gravel. So we had a gravel soccer field, a gravel baseball field, and gravel broomball (yup – we had enough taped brooms for everyone to bat around those rubber outdoor soccer balls too!). Ever play snowshoe football? Everyone at St. Andrews did. Fortunate enough to have access to snowshoes too, plus we could borrow them for after school if we wanted to. One of my lasting memories to this day is lining up at receiver during a “gym class” football game and breaking wide open while my grade 6 teacher lofted a spiral my way, then having it slip through my fingertips to the gravel below. The sheer joy of getting open past the defenders, and the terror of it falling through my hands was my own personalized version of the famed Wide World of Sports opening. My teacher even grilled me about it when we got back into class. It didn’t scar me. I didn’t go home that day and cry. It was awesome! Playing, running, laughing with friends. Tough for it not to benefit an 11 year old.

Look, we’ve already got enough kids struggling through school. I’ve seen it first hand. Kids didn’t get dumber. They got lazier. Sport is just one of those avenues that can instill drive and determination that can be carried to other areas like math and spelling.

Apologies for the disgruntled tone on the topic, but if part of my torch run application included stating that I would use this opportunity to promote an active lifestyle, then here it is cut and dry. Kudos to those of you still playing for your own red badge of Excellence or for the participatory duffle bag – or just to earn the beer afterwards. Even bigger kudos for those up before daylight and at every other hour of the day running your kids around to the rink or court or field, helping coach those kids or organize those teams and leagues. Yours is a badge much greater.

Back to torch fun shortly.

Postscript on the topic – a friend of mine (and blog follower) had to leave the ice while helping coach his little guy’s hockey team practice a few days ago and got rushed to the hospital with some chest pains. So although I just got the chance to go and visit Jeff in the hospital and see that he’s doing better, I wanted to reiterate everyone’s best wishes for speedy recovery Skinner! I’m sure you’ll be back on the ice chirpin’ everyone in no time.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I Love it When a Plan Comes Together (or almost)

So finally, after the excitement of not knowing where I’ll be carrying the torch and not knowing how I’m getting there, I’ve received my marching orders.

I’ll be part of a team running from Wawa, towards Thunder Bay, with my leg of the journey starting at the Big Bird Inn on Broadway Avenue, to the RBC in Wawa on January 3rd. Looks like an early start for me that day since I have to be at the Michipicoten Community Centre (on Chris Simon Drive!) for 7am. My mom went and booked the famed Beaver Inn for a couple days just in case the weather is lousy. Probably travel there on the 2nd. I’m not sure what’s cooler – being able to say that I carried the torch down Broadway, or that I’ll be resting my head at the Beaver. Let the jokes begin!

Exciting day yesterday as I received a Purlolator package from VANOC – the organizing committee for the Olympics in Vancouver. Since I had originally been notified that I would receive my torchbearer uniform the morning that I run in Wawa, I was surprised to crack open a box containing exactly that. Well, sort of. I pulled out the uniform and quickly realized it was the wrong size. Talk about a buzz-kill. Then after a bit of digging through the rest of the box, I found a letter that said “Congratulations Colleen!”
Turns out that I received the uni for Colleen from Manitoba who is running on day seventy-something. Shitty. Out of curiosity, I tried on the size small jacket. No go. So I called the toll free number provided in case of problems and found out that there was likely a mistaken switch. The girl on the other end asked if I tried on the jacket since they were made big, because if it fit, I could just keep that one. I had to explain to her that if I were to zip up the jacket and attempt to raise my hand in the air to carry the torch, I’d look like one of those muscle-heads at the bar with a shirt three sized too small to show off his pipes, lifting his arm to hail the bartender while his shirt creeps up to his pierced nipples. In other words – please send me the correct size. Thanks. I didn’t bother trying on the pants since I figured Colleen from Manitoba would appreciate it if I didn’t. I hope she’s just as courteous.

Got a great email passed on to me from a friend of mine, and fellow SPAD grad Eric, who forwarded me a message his sister had passed along to her friends and family before getting to carry the torch in Cavendish on Sunday. Like her brother and I, she’s also been quite involved in sport and currently works for the Canadian Olympic Committee. She’d thanked those who had been a large part of the experience and invited everyone to follow her torch run on the live camera that is featured on the CTV Olympic site (see my sites of interest on the right). This is really cool because now everyone can tune in to the entire relay and see those they know carrying the torch. Or just to tune in to take part in the spirit of it all. So as much as I’d love to have everyone make the trek to Wawa, you can now follow me on the live web cam as I make my reality tv debut. I’ll send out a reminder as I get closer. Jax – you can skip church that Sunday morning to tune in. Only Jax though. I’m pretty sure I’ll be running early enough for the rest of you to make it.
Even though the feed isn’t the greatest, it was still awesome watching the torch relay live on Sunday morning as it made its way through PEI, and getting to see Lisa carry it. I stuck around long enough to see a few passes, finally on to Cassie Campbell hopping on a horse-drawn buggy and bringing it to the Anne of Green Gables house, helping kick off this month’s 135th birthday celebration of Lucy Maud Montgomery. Good on the torch relay organizers for hitting as much Canadiana as they can. Wonder if the Big Nickel is part of Sudbury’s torch fetivities? Gotta be. I’d also vote in favour of the storied Coulson. Hey – the Stanley Cup made it there!!

Pretty impressive relay team accompanying the runners I must say which became part of the focus while following online. Guys and girls running alongside, making sure the torch stays upright and nobody drops it. People on bikes racing back and forth to clear the way. Trucks and vans and more trucks and vans in the torch convoy with police cruisers and lights flashing everywhere. Quite the road show. It’s highly unlikely that any “torch terrorists” or Olympic protesters get a good chance of sabotaging the runners for fear of getting pummeled by Olympic security jumping out of vans like the A-Team. I’m feeling pretty safe that if something does happen, Wawa won’t be the place. And if it is, I’m working on convincing my brother to come along and keep the beard and hairdo, so even if Wawa gets rowdy, I pity the fool who even tries getting in the way.