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.