The Opening Ceremonies: A Whistler Perspective

Scott Feschuk answers the burning question: “ARE YOU EXCITED???”

by Scott Feschuk

A look back on the Opening Ceremonies of the Vancouver Winter Games from the perspective of one who watched them while standing in the rain at Whistler’s Village Square with a couple thousand other wet people and two halfwits whom you’ll meet shortly.

5:05 p.m. PT Walking along the Whistler stroll, I catch a glimpse of a TV and see that the crowd at B.C. Place in Vancouver is being warmed up by… Ben Mulroney. Note to self: Dispatch cupcakes to editors for sending me to Whistler first.

5:58 Interesting juxtaposition. CTV is airing its opening “essay,” a fiercely patriotic montage with narrative prose that’s turned up to 11 – “… the confidence of a winged god!” etc. etc. But for the crowd in Village Square, the “essay” keeps being interrupted by two twentywhatevers – a guy and a girl; our hosts for the evening – leaping to the stage and screaming “Whistler, are you excited???!!!!” and “Whistler – what’s uuuuuuuppppppp????” Spoiler alert: Audience replies = “Wooooo!” and “Woooooo!”

6:04 The Ceremonies open with some guy slowly reading the names of the host cities of all previous Winter Games. It offers all the thrill and pulse-pounding excitement you’d expect from a Wikipedia search.

6:07 A lot has already been made of the chaos in the VIP box, the empty seats and the hilarity of the native chiefs being late to an event seven years in the making. My favourite bit: if you looked over the Governor-General’s shoulder as she arrived, you could see some guy placing his jacket on a chair back – as if to save a seat. In the VIP box. This made me laugh, for some reason. Keep moving, Laureen. I got dibs.

6:15 Can’t say I’m a fan of what they did to our national anthem there. Don’t get me wrong: nice singer, good voice. But why did they have to slow O Canada down so much? Were they hoping people at home would start making out to it? I thought it was a bad call because it deprived people of the opportunity to sing along in bars, in public gatherings, even in B.C. Place. On the other hand: The anthem was not in any way performed by Celine Dion. Let’s call it a sawoff.

6:19 Natives emerge and the Opening Ceremonies enter their 19th minute of consisting in their entirety of people yelling, “Welcome! Bienvenue!”

6:21 The live satellite feed to the big screens in Whistler’s Village Square abruptly cuts out. Instantly, Host Guy and Host Girl emerge from the side of the stage to fill the silence. “WHAT’S UP WHISTLER???????”

6:24 Host Guy and Host Girl are starting to lose the anxious crowd. They ask Whistler to make some noise and the noise that Whistler makes is not a noise generally associated with enthusiasm. It’s closer to the noise a mob makes just before someone reaches for a pitchfork.

6:26 Still no Ceremonies on the big video screens. Sweet bearded Jesus: Athletes are marching into the stadium and taking their seats in an orderly fashion and we’re missing it! Host Guy – young, blond and just relentless – makes a tactical error as he attempts to fill time: “We are going to be with you here in Whistler every day for 17 days!!” Why is he threatening us like that?

6:28 Host Girl? Not doing much better. “We are witnessing history live here tonight!!!!” Actually, we were witnessing history live here tonight. Now we’re witnessing what appears to be outtakes from MuchMusic’s least successful VJ search ever.

6:33 Twelve minutes now without the feed from Vancouver. The organizers in Whistler have resorted to playing promotional Olympic videos. Somehow, I cannot shake the feeling that Juan Antonio Samaranch is personally responsible for this. It’s just not the Olympic Games if Juan Antonio Samaranch isn’t rubbing his hands together and cackling maniacally.

6:35 “HOW YOU FEELING WHISTLER??”

6:36 Unwilling to trust us to talk among ourselves, Host Guy and Host Girl are now filling the air by naming random places and seeing if anyone claps to indicate that they are from that particular place. Squamish! Toronto! Montreal! I’m preparing to cheer when they ask for noise from the residents of Hell.

6:39 There! On the video screens! It’s back! The live coverage is back and… it’s in French! No problem. The crowd reaches an unspoken consensus that anything in French is better than those two in English.

6:57 The English feed is restored just in time to hear Lloyd Robertson refer to Morocco’s capital as “exotic.” I take it then that we haven’t missed much.

7:14 We’re soaking wet. We’re tired from standing. And we just had to endure the televised image of Joe Biden’s smile. But that doesn’t stop the Whistler crowd from giving up a deafening cheer as Canadian athletes enter B.C. Place.

7:21 Bryan Adams takes the stage. Somewhere in a Canadian basement, Corey Hart resigns himself to the fact that the organizers of the Opening Ceremonies are just not going to call.

7:22 I’m not saying that Adams and Nelly Furtado are bad at lip-syching, but I’m pretty sure I just saw the Solid Gold Dancers back there.

7:24 The first good move by the Whistler crew: They cut off Adams and Furtado and bring to the stage 45 Canadian athletes competing in the alpine and sliding events. Much cheering and flag-waving – literal and metaphoric – ensues.

7:26 The Whistler Children’s Choir leads the athletes and crowd in the singing of O Canada. Goosebumps. Though those might partially be the result of the rain soaking through my underpants.

7:28 Host Guy: “ARE YOU EXCITED WHISTLER?????” By my count, it’s the 100th time he’s asked. Shouldn’t balloons and confetti be dropping?

7:32 Organizers put the Opening Ceremonies back up on the video screen. It’s Sarah McLachlan. And… is that some interpretive dancing? Wait, Whistler Children’s Choir, come back!

7:50 Fiddling and tap dancing? Opening Ceremonies organizers: If you’re trying to do a compilation of all my least favourite things, you’re going to have to somehow work Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman in there.

7:52 Oh my God their tap shoes are on fire! WHY ARE EMERGENCY PERSONNEL DOING NOTHING??

7:54 Now we’re celebrating the “expanse of our landscape” as we continue to celebrate the “gravitas of Donald Sutherland’s narration.”

7:58 Did I just stroke off there or has this guy been running across that wheat field for about 40 minutes? The world hasn’t seen wire work this advanced since Cathy Rigby was Peter Pan.

8:03 The crowd at Village Square is thinning out big-time. Not fans of wheat-field sprinting, apparently.

8:07 Red ninja snowboarders!

8:11 I didn’t mind the chatty poet guy in theory but did he have to make his little poemy thing all about how Canada is great and is not meek and is soooo awesome and look out world here we come! I thought he was going to finish by throwing Mary Tyler Moore’s hat into the air. “Canada is the ‘what’ in what’s new.” Canada is apparently also the ‘Stuart Smalley’ of the global community. (By the way, every country can be likened to a Saturday Night Live character: Switzerland is the “makin’ copies” character; North Korea lived in the van down by the river; the U.S. is the “More cowbell” guy.)

8:18 Official speeches: The Ultimate Crowd Killer. More people flee into the Whistler night.

8:35 Wayne Newton comes out to sing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. He sounds remarkably like kd lang.

8:40 The Olympic flag arrives and is brought into the stadium by some of the other survivors of Superman’s doomed planet.

8:53 The Olympic flame enters the stadium with Rick Hansen, who passes it off to Catriona Le May Doan, who hands it to Steve Nash, who passes it along to – wait! let me guess! the ghost of Bill Barilko? – no, it’s Nancy Greene, who gives it to Wayne Gretzky, who flashes the thumbs up in his red mitten, and then waits, and waits, and they all wait, all five of them, and they wait some more, and this isn’t the least bit awkward, and they wait, and if Steve Nash’s face were speaking right now it would be saying “WTF?” and more waiting and then Brian Williams is there to fill us in: “There is a problem with the hydraulic system!” It’s official then: With the whole world watching, Canada has come down with erectile dysfunction. Upside: The mishap distracted international attention from how hideous the torch/cauldron is. Did we borrow that thing from Nine Inch Nails’ last concert tour?

9:01 Well, that whole cauldron experience wasn’t at all embarrassing, was it? [Place index finger under shirt collar – tug.]

9:03 And now, for fans of anti-climax, the lighting of the external cauldron! But first: the endless drive through the streets of Vancouver with Wayne Gretzky standing on the back of a pickup truck. Think of it as a redneck Popemobile.




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The Opening Ceremonies: A Whistler Perspective

  1. "6:57 The English feed is restored just in time to hear Lloyd Robertson refer to Morocco's capital as “exotic.” I take it then that we haven't missed much."

    You really didn't.

  2. "With the whole world watching, Canada has come down with erectile dysfunction.

    So, were there 2 "pillars" that failed to erect, or was there one?

    And how long did these guys have to plan this thing?

    • That part totally reminded me of the 'HELLO CLEVELAND" scene in Spinal Tap where they get lost backstage. Then eventually they get on stage and Derek Smalls gets stuck inside his pod until the stagehand blow torches crowbars the seams apart and he bursts out of the pod right as the other two are retreating back into theirs.

      I was a spluttering heap of rags on the floor until Gretzky got in the pick-up truck, at which point I went into convulsions.

  3. Thanks for this, Feschuk.

    Other than informing us that you were masturbating at 7:55 or thereabouts, this was welcome because I did not watch the opening ceremonies but I like to pretend I did. Between you and Wells, I am covered for any conversation tonight at dinner – and I might just have to steal comment about survivors from Superman's planet.

  4. I enjoyed most of the opening cerimonies (ok maybe not the peter pan wheat thing??) but your play by play made me giggly…thanks!!

  5. Scott Feschuk really needs to get a life and obviously could not afford a decent seat as he had to stand in the rain. I think they have a name for this type of person that is full of negativiy, Loser!. Yes there was an unfortunate malfunction with the torch ceremony but overall we should be proud to be Canadians. A job well done Vancouver! Not an easy event to put together and despite the tragic loss of an athlete they managed to do a great job with respect!

    • God!!! Anyone who makes the effort to tell Feschuk that he's "full of negativity" has waaay too much time on his hands. Don't you read Maclean's, Bob?

      • On behalf of Bobs everywhere, I'd like to dissociate myself and my peers with this "Bob"s comments above. His statements were not approved by the world of people named Bob and should not be construed as having our endorsement.

        • Obviously not a Lord. :)

    • Come on Bob, that "unfortunate malfunction"? Tthat happens to everyone once in a while.

      Err, so I've been told…um, I mean i read it somewhee, yea, that's it….read it.

  6. You hit the nail right on the head but you forgot a few things (I know, there were too many items to list). You forgot to mention how we almost injured Wayne "The Flame" Gretzky several times in the back of that city pickup truck (with a burned out headlight) by only letting him hold on with one hand and hitting the throttle abruptly several times during the endless drive. And what about Wayne's "special" torch as Brian Williams described it? Wasn't it special for remaining lit the whole time it took to drive 45 light-years to the outdoor cauldron? Maybe it was special, Brian, because he swapped it when he left the stadium (I saw it on your broadcast!!!) and also in the back of the pickup (how on earth did you not see that you !@#$%^& idiot!)

    What a joke!

    • Yeah, it was too funny that Brian Williams wasn't watching his own feed. Also, new drinking game, bottoms up every time Brian says "I interviewed him ___ years ago!"

  7. Great commentary! You forgot to mention our wonderful governor general SLEEPING during the speeches.

    • Hey, don't you wish you could nap like that?

    • Malheureusement, I didn't fall asleep until after the so-called "singing of the national anthem". Where the hell do these people get off butchering it like that?

    • The Gov Gen was watching a video screen set in the consul in front of her, as was the PM and others in the front row. Beats using binoculars.

  8. Not sure what I'm more entertained by: your play by play of those awful ceremonies or Bob's comment.

    CTV 's "opening essay," as you call it, was so embarrassingly laughable that I switched over to What not to Wear. So, missed out on the rampant patriotism limping over the crowd, but got a couple of great tips from Clinton.

    • Did you see any of NBC's pre-ceremony coverage? I though their pre-ceremony stuff (particularly the Brokaw bit and the George Vancouver mapping the last of the West montage) was pretty great, and made me proud to be Canadian, but everyone seems to say that the CTV coverage (pre AND during) was meh at best, and really bad at worst.

  9. Yikes! That was some embarrassing in front of the whole world. But at least you have the ability to make it hilarious. Thanks for the chuckles, Feschuk. Especially the Corey Hart bit.

  10. Wonderful commentary – we were all laughing at home when we saw the chap put his coat over the back of the chair behind the GG in the VIP box, "Ah, save this seat, my Mom might be coming". The empty seats at the start were really upsetting. What happened there? *Very* lacklustre and slow start. The fiddle section looked like it was dreamed up when someone was smashed on screech. Were those kilt-wearing prostittues or were they supposed to be musicians? Hard to tell. Keep the fantastic commentary coming!

    • the native leaders were late because they had to change routes due to protestors blocking the way. The Gov Gen barely made it in time.

      • Thanks for the explanation on that terican. Feschuck, you can plan something for 7 years but some things can still go wrong. I enjoyed your commentary except for that part.

        • On the other hand, I guess we make fun of Stevie for missing photo-ops and those are planned aren't they?

  11. I'd like to see any of you critical people do any better!! I thought it was great …If you had watched the entire thing some of the errors were explained……why do I waste my time????

  12. I liked it. Including the wheat field. Must not be as 'cool' as this crowd.

  13. I don't understand…vancouver did a great job, we should be proud, not writing a whole article on all the mistakes and blunders that were made. Why focus on these negatives when we should be congratulating these people for putting it all together so well? Or, would you rather have fake computer graphics, and young girls pretend singing b/c they're too ugly for tv, a la china?

  14. The most important part of the opening ceremonies is the lighting of the torch, not only was there an awkward delay to get the thing to work, but only part of in worked and one of the people didn't get to participate by lighting their pillar, I think it was actually Wayne. Then they have the eternal flame on the other side of town? Who the hell planed that? I love Canada and I love being Canadian but screwing up the lighting of the friggin olympic flame? I have never felt so embarrassed as a Canadian!

  15. With a budget going mulitiple times past the original estimate and almost a whole decade to prepare, you would expect at least the seminal moment of the host country's presentation to the WORLD to have been over prepared to avoid any malfunctions. In addition, you are compared to other opening ceremonies. I have seen lasers, fire, arrows and other astounding starts to light a cauldron in my time. The sight of watching a visibly uncomfortable Canadian icon being pulled around the dark ,wet streets of Vancouver as dudes on mountain bikes stick out their tongue and flash hand signals to the world strikes me as an embarassing and anti climactic moment.
    They had a long time to get it right and they didn't. Now they can reap the derision.

  16. I wonder how much the television "hosts" affected people's perceptions of the Ceremonies?

    I watched the NBC feed and taped the CTV (I like to see what a "neutral" team thinks), and it seems as though people who watched the CTV feed were utterly depressed by the pre-Ceremony stuff there, and Lloyd. Meanwhile, I thought NBC's pre-ceremony stuff was WONDERFUL (the piece by Tom Brokaw and the "George Vancouver completing the mapping of the West" montage were awesome I thought, and made me very proud to be Canadian) Also, Bob Costas (and even Matt Lauer) did a really good job covering the ceremony (with Bob very nicely comparing it favourably to Beijing – before the towers problem, but stil – and it was clear that he was impressed by the show).

    Just goes to show, Americans are even better at promoting CANADIAN patriotism than we are!!!

    • Agreed. I am in France right now. just got here had a bad case of jetlag and wound up managing to catch the opening ceremonies from the celtic fiddling till the end. It was very well received and made me feel proud, despite the problems that occurred.

  17. Hey, "time waster", Ella, and others. I think we're all (albeit some more than others) feeling a little pride in Canada, and Vancouver, with this thing getting off the ground, and we wish the organizers and athletes, especially ours, well. It's not unpatriotic to poke a little fun at the gaffes and bloopers, though. We are, after all, talking about the "Games", not the Afghan war. Patriotism and a sense of humour aren't mutually exclusive, or, at least, they shouldn't be.

    • Of course we are! What kind of Canadian doesn't downplay that sense of national pride? In fact, poking fun and overly criticizing is quintessentially the Canadian way. We'd have been far more gracious if it had been any other country other than our own. That's the way we are. Lighten up!

  18. redneck Popemobile

  19. Nice commentary. My favourite moment of the affair was Steve Nash's face which looked every bit as bewildered at the weirdness of the whole thing as me- like he expected Ashton Kutcher to jump out from behind Rick Hansen and hug him, laughing, to tell him he'd been prank'd.

  20. The state of Canada is not right – for a left leaning "progressive" government is not in power.

    Everything flows from that for our left leaning friends,

    everything.

    So on this blog you will find much criticism, second guessing, and occaisional bouts of outrage.

    Pride?

    Not so much.

      • Great piece! On a less Vancouver-specific note, but likewise an indictment of the scariness of the Olympic Spirit ™, have you seen Laura Robinson's essay in the LRC?

        I had read Brad Cran's poems in Geist but didn't know he was now the Vancouver poet laureate — good choice, Vancouver, and heartening to see that the Vancouver vates has such a strong sense of Vancouver's uniqueness and historical character, as he reveals in this piece. There's a bio of Cran at the Geist website, with links to several poems & other things.

    • Biff – a "real" Canadian has a great sense of humour. It's in our DNA. Why do you suppose most comedians and comedy shows in the US use Canadian writers.

  21. Scott, thank you for your honest appraisal of last night's opening ceremony. I read some of the glowing newspaper reports on line this morning and wondered if I had been watching the same show. You completely echoed some of my own thoughts such as "OMG its Wayne Newton" and "but I really want to stand up and sing along with the national anthem" and "When will this wheat field thing go away". You missed a few key points however. Did noone else find Nelly Fertado's outfit embarrassing due to both it's unflattering nature and the fact that she could barely move in those shoes? As well, I was a bit confused by the biker/clown outfits worn by the fiddlers on the main stage. Closing with Wayne Gretsky lurching through endless (almost empty) streets in the rain and straining to wave while not being thrown from the pickup and loosing the flame was an unfortunate end. I did however love the tap dancing/fiddle segments and the orca whales. Also the phenomenal welome for the Canadian team who looked fabulous. Overrall, sadly, not one of Canad's proudest moments.

    • What shoes? She wasn't wearing any shoes! Came out in a tuxedo in stocking feet, she did. Actually, I thought that was great. If only I had the nerve to actually do something like that.

  22. KUDOS TO SCOTT. I thought I was being overly-critical, but his hilarious narrative totally cracked me up. Go, Scott.

  23. 'The mishap distracted international attention from how hideous the torch/cauldron is. Did we borrow that thing from Nine Inch Nails' last concert tour?"

    Oh god wasn't that true. I believe it was supposed to represent a campfire stick thing…made of …ice. There were any number of native folks around, why not ask them?

    Funny post…one of Scotts best lines:6:39

    There! On the video screens! It's back! The live coverage is back and… it's in French! No problem. The crowd reaches an unspoken consensus that anything in French is better than those two in English.

  24. On reading this I see why Mcleans buried you in Whistler on opening night, Scott.

      • Or a snowboarder's cravings for munchies?

      • "9:03 And now, for fans of anti-climax, the lighting of the external cauldron…"

        Uhhh, Scott, considering your presumed activities around 7:58, I trust this should read post-climax?

        • "Stroke off" means black out – oh, you people are SO dirty!

          • Hmm, pretty sure we all read it "dirty," blushed, felt confused but interested… then decided to touch ourselves, seeing as how it's perfectly normal: the kind of thing you write about on a national blog for Saturday morning readers.

            I just kept wondering if your time came in under SeanStok's. A bet of Olympic proportions, you know.

  25. Actually, overall it was pretty good. I was NOT impressed at the fiasco in the VIP box… could these "Heads of State" (give me a break!) not arrive on time? And we were taking bets last night that not a word would be said about that embarrasment in the press due to Native Sensitivity and so far, not a mention! Also, I don't give a rat's ass what the "official language of the IOC" is… Canada is primarily an English-speaking nation and English should have been FIRST in announcements and signage. As for k.d. lang…. WOW!! Definitely the highlight of the night. Poor Nelly… those shoes looked like stilts which threatened to tilt her over at any moment.

    • If the people of Salt Lake City and BEIJING can handle French being spoken first and English second, I think the people of Vancouver will somehow manage to get by.

      • As Trudeau would say: you don't have to listen.

    • They were held up by protestors blocking their way into the building.

  26. Freya – Canada is "bilingual" – doesn't matter if French of English is spoken first.

    • Except if they'd made the announcement in English first, the cheering would have begun then, drowning out the French version. They were smart to do the French first.

      • Plus, I believe they ALWAYS do the French first. Some English Canadian was complaining about this earlier elsewhere, and a guy from Atlanta came on and said that he didn't remember anyone in Georgia complaining that announcements were made in French first and then English. If we're supposed to get bent out of shape about that, imagine how the people of Beijing must have felt that announcements are made in French first and then English.

  27. Freya – you need to get out a little more often. At the Olympics, French is ALWAYS spoken first before English! Sorry to remind you but French is still an international language. Go to Europe once in your life!

  28. so the reason the video feed cut off at village square was that the organizers bell subscription ran out. It took about 20 min to figure that it wasn't the gear that was messed, and then they got on the phone to get it re-engaged. Talk about F'in hilarious.

  29. The entire event looked like a scene from a french roman catholic rectory..complete with Frenchmen yelling in french …

    Why 20 minutes for natives yelling HELLO ..but only 40 minutes of a guy running in Wheat?
    ( Being from Saskatchewan I found the Wheat field scene was very Moving )

  30. another funny look at the opening ceremonies… a "retro-diary" from a blogger who was drinking heavily at the time….
    http://bit.ly/akKm98

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