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Alona Mercado     My Olympic Experience

The eyes of the world were on Vancouver for 17 days as it hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics. When it was first announced over seven years ago that the Olympics were coming to Vancouver, my sister Annalyn and I made a pact that no matter where we lived or what we were doing, we would do whatever it took to go to the Olympics and hopefully watch Canada win gold at home. When the ticket sale process began two years ago, we began our journey towards attending the Olympics. We were lucky and were able to get tickets during the first three rounds of ticket sales.

These past two weeks have been extremely memorable not just for the events we were able to attend but also for the sights we have seen, the people we have met and the unforgettable memories we have gained.

My siblings and I were able to watch the Canadian women’s hockey team soundly defeat Slovakia 18-0. Although the score was a blow-out, the crowd was very much into the game and the effort that the Slovakian team exhibited was much appreciated. We also watched Canada’s two figure skating pairs skate their short program and they were great! I’m still puzzled at how they score this sport. It used to be so easy but since they changed the scoring methods as a result of the Salt Lake City fiasco, I’m constantly at a loss when it comes to scoring.

On a side note, I had my first celebrity sighting at this event. My brother-in-law found out through twitter that American Vice-President Joe Biden was watching the event. So I took my video camera and began scanning the crowd where I suspected the VIP’s would be sitting. Within minutes I was able to locate Biden and began taking pictures. Unfortunately, although the zoom was able to give me a good shot of him from across the ice, the quality of the camera wasn’t great so my pictures are blurry.

We were supposed to watch the men’s half pipe but our tickets were cancelled due to the weather conditions at Cypress Mountain. We did, however, finally make it up to Cypress Mountain to watch the women’s aerials. It was extremely foggy and it was raining but it was unbelievable to see these women do their amazing jumps.

I will never forget the Canadian men’s hockey game against Switzerland – not because it was the first time I’d ever witnessed a shootout live but because of what happened before the game. Before every event, everyone has to go through security. The set up is similar to what you go through at the airport. No food or drinks are allowed. My sister’s nail clippers were actually confiscated. Anyway, the game was set to start at 4:30 p.m. but they weren’t letting the crowds in yet. Everyone was waiting in the holding area just past security – thousands of people just standing around waiting to get into the stadium. The VANOC volunteers were trying to rev up the crowd and there would occasionally be chants of “Go Canada Go!” What gave me goose bumps was that someone in the crowd started to sing O Canada and before you knew it, the entire crowd was singing and those with flags were waving them in the air. It was such a spontaneous and patriotic moment that I will never forget it.

The knock against Canadians has always been that we are too reserved and don’t often display our patriotism. I can personally attest that this theory was thrown out the window in Vancouver. No matter where you went, Canadian flags were everywhere – from high atop every window in an apartment complex, to homemade flags of all shapes and sizes on peoples’ lawns, to all sorts of “Go Canada Go!” signs in the windows of restaurants, businesses and stores, and proudly painted on the faces of children and adults alike. But more important, Canadians from all walks of life were proudly displaying their pride by wearing Canadian red and coming out in droves to take part in the Olympic spirit at the venues and at all the various pavilions, concerts and street corners.

No longer can Canadians be accused of being reserved in our display of patriotism because during these Olympics, every Canadian I saw was clearly wearing their patriotism on their sleeve – literally. It’s no wonder The Bay couldn’t re-stock its shelves fast enough with Olympic wear. The main Olympic store in downtown Vancouver had its own separate entrance from the rest of the store. The wait in line to get into the store was usually about 30 minutes long. But that didn’t deter anyone from getting in line if it meant that you could finally get your hands on some red mittens or a Canada hoodie (if you were lucky).

Throughout the city and at all the event sites, there was one constant and that was the thousands of men and women in blue - the Olympic volunteers. They could be found on almost every street corner in downtown Vancouver and would answer your questions about how to get to the Olympic cauldron, what sky train or bus you should be taking to get to a particular event, or how to get to the Olympic store. I salute these dedicated volunteers for their hard work and tireless efforts to make these games the best they could be.

Since the 1998 Nagano Olympics, I have always equated the Winter Olympics with hockey. I was in third year law at the time and I still remember sitting in my living room in Ottawa at 4 am watching dumbfounded as the greatest hockey player our country has ever produce sat on the bench during the all important shootout. Four years later, when Wayne Gretzky orchestrated Canada’s Gold medal win, I knew that I would want to watch an Olympic gold medal game live. When the tickets went on sale last year, both my sister and I tried to get some tickets but we were not successful – for both the men’s and women’s gold medal games. This past week, I have been religiously checking the Vancouver 2010 website as well as other websites to see if anyone was trying to sell their tickets. There were lots of tickets for sale for the men’s game but each ticket was going for thousands of dollars. Although I love hockey, I’m not about to spend thousands of dollars for only one ticket. I may be crazy but not that crazy.

I was, however, lucky enough to find reasonably priced tickets to the women’s gold medal game on Craigslist. I have never bought anything on Craigslist before so I was a bit nervous about it. Annalyn and I went to meet the lady to pick up and pay for our tickets. She was from Toronto and was called back for work so she had to sell her tickets. She seemed genuine to us so we bought the tickets. I must confess that both Annalyn and I held our breath for a brief second when we presented our tickets to be scanned for the game. We breathed a huge sigh of relief when the scanner registered the tickets and the volunteer told us to enjoy the game.

The atmosphere at the gold medal game was electric. Everyone was in red – with the odd American here and there. The game was both exciting and nerve racking at the same time. We were in row 16 right behind the American goal so we had a clear view of both Canadian goals in the first period. We were on the edge of our seats for most of the game and during the last few minutes of the game everyone was on their feet cheering and celebrating. It was a surreal experience to see our women receive their gold medals and then to hear the Canadian anthem sung as the flag was raised just a few hundred feet from where we were sitting. It was an experience I will never forget and will always treasure.

The debate has begun over whether these Olympics was a success based on the number of medals won, the international community’s reaction to the venues, VANOC’s response to the Olympic cauldron issue, the presence of the protesters and the costs of the actual games. These issues will be debated all over the world but if you look at the overwhelming response of the people who have flocked to Vancouver to take part in the games and in the Olympic festivities, the verdict is simple - it was an absolute success.

This has been my first (and quite possibly my only) Olympic experience. It was a long process to get here. As I sit here writing this article, I am exhausted from all the festivities, I’m broke and I’m dreading what my desk will look like when I finally make it back to my office. However, it has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will never forget. And if given a chance to do it all over again, I would do it in a heartbeat.

Alona C. Mercado is a lawyer practicing in Winnipeg with the law firm of MONK GOODWIN LLP. She was called to the Manitoba Bar in 1999 and the Ontario Bar in 2003. Her preferred areas of practice include wills and estates, committees, real estate, business and commercial transactions, and immigration law. Alona can be reached at (204) 956-1060 ext. 233 or

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