<< markandrupa

Vancouver Olympics

february 2010

Eight years ago we got together with a group of our college friends and rented a house in Salt Lake City for the 2002 Winter Games.  With the Olympics once again within driving distance we signed up for round two.  Joining us again were some of our college buddies: Chris and Raka, Jean and Malinda, and Nicole, as well as Nicole's cousin Tashia, Jean and Malinda's young daughters Emily (3) and Zoe (1) and Jean's mom Solette (who would help babysit).  We all shared a rented house near Douglas Park in Vancouver, which offered convenient access to mass transit as well as a large park for the girls to play in.  Over the course of six busy days Rupa and I attended nine Olympic events and we had a marvelous time - we are already making plans for the London Games in 2012.


See a slideshow of our trip on flickr.


  1. Pairs Figure Skating - Free Skate - february 15

    After eighteen months of planning, our Olympic experience kicked off this morning as we packed up the car, ordered Jamba Juices for the road and picked up our friend Heather and her mom. During the second round of event ticketing we managed to secure four tickets to the pairs free skate tonight, which we were able to split with Heather, whose mom is a huge figure skating fan. Heather and her mom would stay the night with us in Vancouver and then return to Seattle by train Tuesday evening.

    The drive up was quick and direct, though the Canadian border agent was uncharacteristically snippy with us. We pulled up to our rental property around 3pm, just as the cleaning crew was finishing up. The house was a charming 1924 Craftsman with six bedrooms, a spacious living room and large dining table - plenty of space for the eleven of us to spread out.

    As soon as we were checked in the four of us were off to find a bus stop. Vancouver has a thorough mass transit system and was championing it as the best way to get to the venues, going so far as to give ticket holders free access to the entire system. We boarded a bus just down the street and transfered to another in downtown Vancouver that dropped us off a few hundred yards from the Pacific Coliseum. Security was tight - pass-through metal detectors and bag checks - but swift and we rushed into the stadium half-way through the first skate. We had a pretty nice view from our $569 seats in the front of the upper bowl, despite the movement of a television boom camera that was a bit distracting.

    Having seen an Olympic skating exhibition in Salt Lake City we were initially underwhelemed with the performances. The routines were slower and less dramatic than we expected, but that all changed once the French couple (James and Bonheur) took the ice with a brilliant performance featuring gigantic throws and creative lifts (apparently they were lacking in other areas, as they only placed 14th). From that point on the routines continued to improve, culminating with the eventual medal winners in the final grouping. Our favorites of the night were the Chinese pair Pang and Tong, who skated a beautiful and perfectly executed routine to "Impossible Dream" from the musical Man of La Mancha. They ended up winning the free skate tonight, but once the scores from the short skate were included they ended up taking home the silver instead of the gold, which went to another impressive pair from China. Unlike at our other events, the medals for ice skating were presented on the ice right after the competition, so this was our only opportunity to see a live medal ceremony.

    It was raining by the time we left, and between waiting for busses and walking five blocks back to the house we ended up soaked. We rarely carry umbrellas here in the Northwest since the rain is usually light and we are nearly always ducking in from a car. We made it home around 10:30, where Nicole and Tashia had just arrived after flying in from Boston and Phoenix. We also learned that Emily watched the pairs skate on tv, patiently waiting for Rupa and I to take the ice! She clearly has a healthy imagination.

    Private residence near Douglas Park, Vancouver

  2. USA-Russia Women's Hockey - february 16

    Rupa and I had originally planned to attend the Women's Snowboard X this morning, but heavy rains had forced the closure of the spectating plaza at Cypress Mountain. We were actually a bit relieved, as we had a busy schedule this week and weren't looking forward to the early morning departure. Instead, we enjoyed a relaxing morning at the house and stocked up on groceries.

    Around 1pm we left for our first USA Women's Hockey match, joined by Nicole, Tashia, Jean, Malinda and Emily. It was a warm 50F and sunny today, a beautiful day to be out and not at all what you expect from a Winter Olympics. We caught a bus near the house that took us directly to Thunderbird Arena, which was smaller than I expected and we ended up with a nice view of the rink from the 7th row of the upper deck. As expected, the crowd heavily favored the American team who didn't dissappoint, outclassing the Russian women 13-0. The best goal came from four-time Olympian Jenny Potter, who turned a Russian power play on end by streaking forward with the puck, sliding it through the legs of a defender and beating the keeper in a one-on-one. The Russians eventually made a move of their own, switching goalies after the US scored their tenth goal.

    After the game Rupa and I left with Nicole and Tashia to find a bus home, while Jean, Malinda and Emily stuck around for the evening match (China vs Finland). Once we got home I picked up Solette and Zoe and drove them fifteen minutes back to the arena so they could join the rest of the family. I was a bit nervous driving the minivan: I wasn't on the rental agreement, I was traveling with someone else's child, and Solette has some history with Canadian immigration. We arrived without incident though, and the Eliens enjoyed a fun family outing. Meanwhile, the rest of us chilled out at home with men's hockey and curling on the television. After picking up the Eliens we ordered pizza for dinner and called it a night.

    Private residence near Douglas Park, Vancouver

  3. Short Track Speed Skating - february 17

    Rupa and I got a solid night's sleep. We were the last ones up, just in time to grab breakfast and get ready before Jean and Malinda's friends stopped by with their three young children. Emily introduced us as "My Mark and Rupa", and when Rupa described our bedroom as boring, Emily and her new friends proceeded to drag a bag of toys and a heavy bag of books up from the basement to improve our living conditions. Around eleven I picked up the last of our housemates, Chris and Raka, who had flown in from Minneapolis.

    While Jean and Malinda were at the park with their friends, the rest of us decided to head downtown and check out the official Olympic superstore. We waited out the thirty-minute line while munching on Tim Hortons' doughnuts (which were a bit ordinary at best) and then spent an hour browsing a vast array of souvenirs and clothing. Rupa and I picked up some prints to frame, a pin (to turn into a magent for the fridge), a few items for our extended family, and, of course, a pair of the iconic red mittens for Rupa. Shortly thereafter we met up with Jean and Malinda and caught a bus to the Pacific Coliseum for our only event of the day, Short Track Speed Skating.

    Short Track is our favorite Winter Olympic event, and tonight's event showcased a little bit of everything. The medal event was the women's 500m, a furious sprint that looped around the track 4.5 times and ended in under 45 seconds. We watched the final three elimination rounds, with the medals going to China, Canada and Italy. We were also lucky enough to see Apolo Ohno race in the heats of the men's 1000m (helmet 256, setting up for a pass). Though the heats lacked the intensity of a finals, it was amazing to watch Ohno and the favored Koreans skate their heats with relative ease, hanging out in the pack and then picking a moment to pass to the front. One of the Koreans even managed a double pass on one turn, weaving inside one skater and outside another.

    The real treat tonight was the men's 5000m relay semifinals. Short track relays are a veritable circus, with sixteen skaters sharing the ice. Four skate the outside lanes as part of the offical race, while their three teammates skate inside the oval, keeping pace and preparing for the push-off exchange that will vault them into the race. Unlike a track-and-field relay, the skaters only sprint a couple of laps before being replaced, and with 45 laps in a 5000m relay the four-man teams end up changing skaters more than twenty times. The US team (including Ohno) skated in the first relay, which took on a peculiar spiral-effect as two of the athletes collided, allowing the US and Korean teams to take a half a lap lead. The US team finished second, securing a spot in the final. On a lighter note, the Australian skaters donned the best outfits of the night, taking a page out of 1982 science fiction with their Tron-like patterned unitards.

    There were a lot of people lined up for busses after the event, so instead of waiting we snagged a $15 taxi ride to the Gastown neighborhood where we met up with the rest of our friends and grabbed a nice dinner at Boneta, a lively gastropub style restaurant with an exciting menu. I ended up with a fantastic maple-glazed sablefish, Rupa loved her beet salad, and we all shared a tasty bread pudding and cheese plate for desert.

    Private residence near Douglas Park, Vancouver

  4. Curling & USA-Finland Women's Hockey - february 18

    Today was our first two-event day, and it began at 9am with Men's Curling. Once again we were fortunate with the weather, and the eight of us (Nicole, Tashia, Chris, Raka, Malinda, Emily, Rupa and I) had a pleasant thirty-minute neighborhood stroll to the Vancouver Olympic Centre. Our first exposure to curling came eight years ago at the 2002 Olympics, where we picked up some curling tickets on a whim. We knew nothing about it when we took our seats, but a friendly Canadian couple sitting beside us explained the rules and strategy and we were soon engrossed. This time around curling tickets were a priority, and last night we freshened up on the rules by watching a televised match and researching online.

    Nice pants! That was the first thought on everyone's mind as the Norwegian men followed the bagpipers into the arena and took the ice wearing their now famous red, white and gray checkered pants. We had nice seats at one end of the sheet, with fantastic views of the house for half of the match. Four sheets were in play during this preliminary round, but it was difficult to watch four strategies unfold, so we ended up focusing on the USA-Denmark and Canada-Sweden matches. The Canadian team, with Kevin Martin skipping, is generally considered the world's best team, and with some great throws they forced the Swedes into an early concession. The US match was more exciting and ran into an extra end, but the US skip couldn't knock a Danish rock out of the button on his final throw and the US ended up losing.

    While Malinda and Emily headed home after curling, the rest of us took a bus directly to the Thunderbird Arena stop for our second USA Women's Hockey match. We had some time for lunch, but rather than settle for the lackluster venue options we found some pretty decent burgers and milkshakes at Vera's Burger Shack a few blocks away.

    Our seats for this match were in the lower bowl and offered an excellent side view of the near goal. Only one goal was scored at this end though, when Natalie Darwitz dumped a perfect pass across the mouth of the goal and Hilary Knight drilled it into the back of the net. Although this match was much more competative than the last one, the US still wound up winning 6-0. Perhaps the most exciting minute came in the third period when the US defense held off a Finnish five-on-three power play.

    We returned home to find Solette putting the finishing touches on an authentic home-cooked Haitian dinner. In addition to some wonderfully seasoned chicken, she'd prepared one of my favorite all-time dishes: cashews soaked and boiled until tender and served in a rich tomato broth, served over Haitian rice and beans. Jean had also spent the afternoon putting together a dish: a delicious Chocolate Silk Pie. We paired that up with some 2007 JJ Prum Riesling to cap off a perfect day and then rolled into bed.

    Private residence near Douglas Park, Vancouver

  5. Ski Jumping & Skeleton at Whistler - february 19

    While the Elien family spent the day exploring downtown Vancouver and absorbing the Olympic spirit, the rest of the us planned a change of scenery as we woke up early and were on our way to Whistler by 6am. We hired taxis to get us downtown, hopped on the SeaBus for the ferry ride to North Vancouver and then boarded the official Olympic busses for a two hour drive to the Whistler Olympic Park. The early morning vistas along the Sea-to-Sky Highway were just lovely, but it wasn't long before all six of us were napping our way to the top. We arrived with just enough time to leisurely hike up the scenic alpine trail to the Ski Jumping venue, stopping briefly for photos at a First Nations-themed snow carving. Inside the stadium, the compacted-snow spectating plaza was spacious (some folks even spread out a blanket, picnic-style) and offered wonderful views of the hill, while expert commentary and jumbotron close-ups of the skiers enhanced the viewing experience. As for the weather, sunny skies and calm winds made for pleasant conditions and beautiful views.

    We were here for the large hill qualification round, and for a little over an hour we watched as sixty-one skiers raced down the ramp at speeds approaching 60mph and then soared up to 467ft through the air. The first skier had the longest jump, after which the start bar was moved down the ramp a bit to prevent subsequent skiers from overshooting the landing slope. In fact, the final skier, Simon Ammann from Switzerland, still managed a 460ft jump after having the start bar moved down even further. He would go on to win gold in the final round on Saturday.

    The only glitch of the day was the one-hour wait for a free shuttle to Whistler Village, but once on board we all passed the thirty-minute ride with a nap. By the time we arrived we were ready for lunch, so we made our way to one of our favorite Whistler restuarants, Sachi Sushi. The albacore, salmon and hamachi were melt-in-our mouth fantastic today, but the desert menu was lacking so we ended up across the street at Crepe Montagne, an adorable little French Creperie. Rupa and I love the place for their tasty breakfast crepes, but their dessert crepes were equally sensational. We ended up hanging out a while, but when we found ourselves watching Skeleton on the overhead tv we decided to mosey on - we had tickets to Skeleton in our pockets and the Sliding Centre was just a few blocks away.

    We strolled through the Village, pausing to enjoy the Olympic additions, and boarded the gondola for a lift up to the track. Unlike the bitter weather we'd endured at Bobsleigh in 2002, the conditions today were calm and pleasant - so much so that a group of die-hard John Daly (USA slider) fans arrived without shirts or jackets (and still somehow managed to set off the metal detectors). We arrived just in time to catch the final few women race down the track, including gold medalist Amy Williams. Skeleton was already more exciting than bobsleigh: the sliders looked at once more agile and vulnerable on the track while still approaching speeds of 90mph. We could only see one curve at a time, but being within an arms reach of the track really impressed upon us just how fast the athletes were moving.

    We used the break before the mens' runs to work our way to the top of the course. Along the way we passed a section of track with "Vancouver 2010" and the Olympic rings emblazoned on it and so we stopped for photos, including a big-head shot and a Facebook image for Rupa with her new gloves. The sleds at the top were moving much slower through the turns, affording us better views of the athletes. We were also able watch as the first few men sprinted down the start ramp and flopped onto their sleds. By the time we followed the track back to the finish we'd been there two hours and were ready for some dinner in the Village.

    The Village was crowded. We managed a bit of souvenir shopping, but our main focus was finding a place to eat. Restaurants were overflowing and even the outside patios were packed. Deploying her charm, Raka found us a cozy corner table at La Bocca, a restaurant with an east-meets-west menu (I can vouch for the French onion soup and the crab cakes). By 9:30 we decided to get moving as we didn't want to miss the last bus back to Vancouver and we had another early morning tomorrow. After a two hour bus-nap we pulled up to the SeaBus terminal, and thirty minutes later we were home.

    Private residence near Douglas Park, Vancouver

  6. Freestyle Skiing Aerials & 1500m Speed Skating - february 20

    Another long day began a little after 7am as we once again caught the SeaBus to North Vancouver and boarded the Olympic busses. This time, however, we were headed to nearby Cypress Mountain for Women's Aerials. Unlike the snowboard venue at Cypress, the freestyle venue was safe for spectators. Unfortunately, the stadium wasn't as well-laid-out as the ski jumping stadium. The general admission plaza was fairly shallow, allowing only a limited number of ticket holders to obtain front-on views of the jumps. Side views were also in short supply, and we ended up with an offset view looking over the moguls' judging booth and between the stadium light posts. Given the height of the jumps, though, we still had enough of a view to enjoy the aerial ballet. As a novice spectator it was difficult to count every twist and turn made by an athlete, but it was easy to appreciate the general quality of the jump based on the height, the extent and duration of the aerial manouvers and the poise of the landing. Expert commentary and slow-motion jumbotron replays helped us differentiate individual performances and identify the small form breaks that the judges were looking for.

    Back in Vancouver Raka once again found us a restaurant, this time by asking a Chinatown shop keeper where to find good dim sum. He pointed out Jade Dynasty just down the block, and we all had a good time trying a variety of buns, dumplings, rolls and rice. Rupa couldn't resist the fish-shaped mango pudding, which was a bit like pannacotta and ended up being a refreshing palate cleanser.

    Our evening events required us to spilt up. Chris, Raka, Nicole and Tashia had tickets to Short Track Speed Skating where they would watch Apolo Ohno skate for bronze in the 1000m (we saw the preliminary rounds of this race on Wednesday). Meanwhile Jean, Malinda, Rupa and I were headed to the Richmond Olympic Oval for the Men's 1500m Speed Skate. Rupa and I left directly from lunch, hiring a taxi to King Edward Station where we hopped on the (crowded) Canada Line subway for a twenty-minute ride. From the station we speed-walked twenty minutes to the stadium - fortunately it was a beatutiful, sunny day and the laid-out route directed us onto a scenic river-side path. The security line was abnormally long and filled mostly with orange-clothed spectators. The Dutch, it turned out, were very good speed skaters and were favored to win gold tonight, and their Olympic Committee had managed to secure a sizeable portion of the tickets.

    We only caught up to Jean and Malinda once we found our seats, which were on a corner of the track. It would have been nice to have had seats closer to the start and finish lines at the other end of the stadium, but when we found out that American speed skater Chad Hedrick's wife and baby were seated in front of us we realized that we were quite lucky just to have tickets. The skaters paired off for nearly two hours, with the fastest skaters racing towards the end. Unlike in Short Track, the skaters here weren't advancing in heats, but instead were racing against the clock: medals would be awarded based only on their finish time. Each race ran just short of four laps (400m laps, same as track-and-field) and was over in about 100 seconds. Chad Hedrick ended up placing sixth, while American Shani Davis competed against a Canadian in the final pairing. The favored Dutchman Mark Tuitert had put down an excellent time in the previous pair and Shani fell behind early and was unable to make up the difference. He beat the Canadian hands-down, but he fell short of the gold by half a second.

    Speed Skating ended earlier than Short Track, so Jean, Malinda, Rupa and I wandered about Gastown looking for a place the eight of us could dine. We found a couple of intriguing places, but it was Saturday night in a fully booked city and we had trouble finding a table for eight. We finally managed to secure a reservation at La Casita, a Mexican restaurant. It wasn't our first choice of cuisine, but they had a spacious basement that was quiet enough for conversation and we could watch the Olympics on a big-screen tv. The food took a while to come out, but it was tasty enough, and we ended up sharing a pleasant final meal together.

    Knowing that the girls would wake up early, Jean and Malinda called it a night while the rest of us wandered over to the Olympic Cauldron on the waterfront for some photos. We walked back along Robson street, which had been pedestrianised for the Games and was throbbing with an international vibe of partiers. It would have been fun to find a bar or two just to hang out, but we'd had a long couple of days and we'd all be traveling in the morning. Around midnight we caught the Canada Line back to King Edward Station and walked home from there.

    Private residence near Douglas Park, Vancouver

  7. Vancouver to Seattle - february 21

    We spent the morning packing up the cars and shuttling folks to the airport - Nicole had to be there around 4:30am and Tashia, Chris and Raka needed a lift around nine. The cars were fully packed by eleven, but due to some confusion in the leasing office we didn't get checked out until a little after 11:30. Much to our delight the wait at the US border was a brief fifteen minutes (we've waited up to two hours before). We stopped in Bellingham with the Eliens for a fast-food lunch and to gas up the car, and we were home before four. Our Olympic experience wasn't over quite yet. Rupa and I had the Eliens over to watch the (first) USA-Canada Men's Hockey match, a thriller which the American men won 5-3 after sixty minutes of full-steam-ahead hockey.

    At home in Seattle


  1. Event pins from each event we attended, available only at the venues.
  2. Event pins of the mascots Miga and Quatchi performing the events we attended.
  3. Postcards of Miga and Quatchi figure skating, curling and playing hockey.
  4. Official Canadian Olympic red mittens for Rupa.
  5. Vancouver 2010 toque (knit winter hat) for Mark.
  6. Vancouver 2010 t-shirt for Mark.
  7. Small Quatchi stuffed animal.