As Vancouver Waits, It Skates

On eve of Olympics, some of us are bitter, some exultant, and some just glide along.

By Steve Burgess 12 Feb 2010 |

Steve Burgess writes about film for The Tyee every other Friday.

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Robson Square Ice Rink by Russian Bear 1 on the Tyee's Flickr pool.

Steps below Robson Street, the ice sheet is packed on a weekday afternoon. Skaters shuffle around the newly re-opened rink, one or two leaning on plastic training stands as they edge forward. There are a couple of real skaters swooping about. But mostly this crowd looks cheerfully inept. It's as though the city stopped skating when the rink shut down a decade ago, and now they've come out to remember how.

The Robson Court skating rink is an Olympic project of sorts. But it's hardly the Richmond Skating Oval. And unlike that gleaming facility, the little downtown rink has some prior history, having operated in the 90s. It's the kind of place even an Olympic opponent might like.

Or not. With the tone of much anti-Games sentiment waffling between the virulent and the apoplectic, it seems no aspect of the Olympic experience will be embraced by everyone. Watching the skaters putter around, I am wondering: When it comes to the Vancouver Games, can there be such a thing as a middle ground?

Tired of being pushed around

The Olympics are a lot like organized religion. There may be some grand ideals buried in there somewhere beneath all the organizational bullshit, but they're buried pretty deep. IOC bully-boy tactics can make a cynic out of almost anyone who is paying attention. Perhaps those excited small-town crowds along the torch route simply aren't. Yet it's clear that their enthusiasm is real. They seem to be holding onto the ideal of what the Olympics are supposed to represent: A world community united by sport and the quest for excellence.

And then there's the IOC -- the organization that blocked Right to Play over corporate sponsorship concerns; the organization that ruled this week against an Australian figure skater who wanted to wear a bracelet in memory of a deceased friend, saying that it was a violation of sponsorship rules. It's said you never want to see how sausage or legislation get made. Add the Olympics to that list. Keeping your Olympic illusions is difficult when you have a front row seat on how those five sausage rings are manufactured.

But even among those with personal VANOC-inflicted bruises, feelings about the Olympics are decidedly mixed. Take my friend M, who works part-time in the concert production business. M was offered a gig as a stage manager at the opening ceremonies and some medal presentations. After clearing her schedule at her regular job, she showed up for the VANOC briefing along with other prospective hirees. VANOC then revealed that stage managers would receive nowhere near the standard union rate. The pay was $16 an hour, take it or leave it. M left it, as did most of the other qualified candidates.

Arden Ryshan of Canadian Actors Equity confirmed that attempts to secure union rates for these workers were "totally rebuffed, after extensive efforts." Ryshan also revealed that the Alberta Ballet Company, which will participate in the opening ceremonies, was able to do so only after the ballet company agreed to take on some of the financial responsibilities itself, as VANOC had placed a ceiling on payments to the company. (Considering the fact that the Canucks are playing a pay-per-view game Friday afternoon, VANOC could save even more on the opening ceremnies by just paying 16 bucks and putting it up on the Jumbotron.)

Silver linings (or maybe bronze)

M has a perfect right to feel bitter. And yet she is determined to enjoy the Olympic experience, particularly the music. "I'm going to check out Wilco, and the Neil Young tribute," she says. "I hear the Atlantic pavilion on Granville Island is going to be great."

To some, that smacks of heresy. The very act of seeking a silver lining to the 2010 Winter Games is seen as a betrayal by those who insist that the entire enterprise is a colossal waste of public funds, and that therefore any pleasure taken from would be inherently immoral.

As for me, I've enjoyed some of the artist videos screening outside the art gallery. I particularly liked one that recorded the experience of standing in the crowd at the Louvre, trying to see the Mona Lisa. I've enjoyed the appearance of foreign teams on the city streets. (And speaking of Olympic ambivalence, I can only imagine the feelings experienced by the Polish Olympic team landing at YVR. Maybe it should be the Robert Dziekanski video playing.)

I'll probably check out some live events—maybe even hop a Canada Line train to Richmond and look around the O Zone. After all, there are local artists benefiting from this event. And now that it's here, I have no qualms about trying to make the best of it.

Zippy politics

Down at Robson Square, it's all quiet on the zip line. Throughout the Olympics the overhead pulley system will carry a string of thrill seekers across the square like so many wet bed sheets. But until the Olympics officially open it's apparently premiers only, and Gordon Campbell has already had his photo-op fun. So, no amateur Spider-men on this day. It looks like fun, though. Hope the haters will forgive me if I give it a shot.  [Tyee]

Read more: 2010 Olympics

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