Friday, February 12, 2010

Will the Firths be the last?

What we know about the Feb. 12 opening ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics at Vancouver's B.C. Place Stadium:

Bryan Adams performed a duet with Nelly Furtado at the Feb. 10 dress rehearsal. On Feb. 6, a recording of Adams and Furtado was played repeatedly inside B.C. Place Stadium. The chorus was “sing something louder so the whole world can hear.” The piece included aboriginal chanting and drumming.

Adams will perform a private show for attendees of Molson Canadian Hockey House after the ceremony.

K.D. Lang and Sarah McLachlan performed solo pieces at the Feb. 10 rehearsal.

Members of the Four Host First Nations offered a welcome greeting. Performers on the white floor were dressed in white, but there were cheerleaders in the grandstands to assist with the audience participation elements. Everyone in the audience will get a bag of props and goodies. The cheerleaders were dressed in red toques, white sweaters, grey pants or slacks and white footwear.

Hudson’s Bay Co. provided the apparel.

Greece will march in first, Canada last. U.S.A. is third to last. Taiwan will be called Chinese Taipei, as usual at Olympics. 
Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean will formally declare the Games open. United States vice-president Joe Biden will be among the VIPs.

VANOC CEO John Furlong and IOC president Jacques Rogge will speak to the audience.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson will carry the Olympic flag.

A giant Olympic flag will be carried by eight people. Will they be eight great Canadians? Will Betty Fox, Terry’s mom, be among them?

A snowboarder flew through the Olympic rings at the rehearsal. A performer who did this stunt was injured during a rehearsal more than a week ago.

A pit for the cauldron was dug in the centre of the floor of the stadium in May 2009. This was among the wish list submitted by executive producer David Atkins to VANOC, which provided another $8.3 million for the production at a May 20 board meeting. The expenditure, but not the details, was disclosed on June 16 by VANOC. Click here to see a photo of the construction site in May and a link to the David Atkins Enterprises report that outlined what the production required.

The cauldron may not burn inside for all 17 days. An outdoor cauldron has been erected to the immediate west of the Vancouver Convention Centre, the international broadcast centre, and is hidden from ground view. The location is called Jack Poole Plaza, dedicated Oct. 2 to the founding VANOC chairman. Poole died in a Vancouver hospital three weeks later after a lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer. He passed just hours after the Olympic flame was lit in Ancient Olympia, Greece.

VANOC CEO John Furlong told Global National on Feb. 11 that Wayne Gretzky would not light the Olympic cauldron.

The Government of Canada is paying $20 million for the ceremony and $25 million for the torch relay. Therefore, the Oct. 2006 brainstorming document released via Access to Information could provide a clue. In that document, it was recommended that an aboriginal athlete light the cauldron, just like at Sydney 2000 where Cathy Freeman did the deed.

Could twin cross-country skiers/ex-Olympians Sharon Firth and Shirley Firth-Larson from the Northwest Territories do the honour at the climax of the Vancouver opening ceremony?

The ceremony begins at 6 p.m. PST. The cauldron-lighting will come in the third hour.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

IOC at the QET

The most exclusive event in the Olympic city on Feb. 9 was the opening ceremony of the International Olympic Committee's 122nd session at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.

The cultural component, a Canadian Welcome, included the Aliqua women’s vocal group performing the Olympic anthem, Langley Ukelele Ensemble doing What a Wonderful World, Circus West acrobats and Marianas Trench, a pop-punk band that had some IOC members bobbing their heads, but a few plugging their ears. Unfortunately the show relied on lip-synching and performers were not introduced before or after their number.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell offered the opening remarks of the Patrick Roberge-produced event.
Sponsors and government partners and VANOC executives joined the IOC at the Queen E. Canadian Olympic Committee president Mike Chambers, VANOC CEO John Furlong and IOC president Jacques Rogge all spoke. Furlong was given an immediate standing ovation by most of the crowd. Many in the IOC section in the centre orchestra seating were slow to get up or didn't bother. Rogge remarked that Furlong had a standing ovation and the Games had not even begun.

Afterward, the adjacent Four Host First Nations’ Chiefs’ House was used for overflow where Canada's Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean held court.

Among those spotted at the post-event reception were Vancouver Olympic Village developers Shahram Malekyazdi and Peter Malek, B.C. finance minister and former Olympics minister Colin Hansen, B.C. Pavilion Corporation chairman David Podmore, Canadian Olympic team Dr. Bob McCormack, former Canadian Olympic Committee vice-president Bob Hindmarch, Prince of Orange of Netherlands, International Triathlon Union founder Les McDonald, Easton sporting goods’ founder Jim Easton, Arthur Griffiths and Francesco Aquilini. Charmaine Crooks, the 1984 silver medal sprinter, introduced me to Prince Albert of Monaco, who is officially known as the Serene Highness. It's not false advertising. A pleasant, serene fella you'd never guess is an aristocrat or former Olympic bobsledder. We chatted about the famed St. Moritz track in Switzerland that I visited in November and he actually took a run on last month.

Griffiths is the ex-owner of the Vancouver Canucks and General Motors Place who led the domestic bid for the 2010 Games that beat out Calgary and Quebec City in 1998. Aquilini bought half of the Vancouver Canucks and General Motors Place from John McCaw in 2005 and gained the rest in a subsequent transaction.

Also spotted was Vic Poleschuk, who was fired in 2007 from the presidency of the B.C. Lottery Corporation after the B.C. Ombudsman issued a report highly critical of the Crown corporation for lax security, including lottery wins by retailers. BCLC is a Vancouver 2010 sponsor, but the deal it made with VANOC won't let it offer odds on Olympic hockey games. So anyone who really feels the need to gamble on the Games will place a bet on websites that are technically illegal under Canada's Criminal Code. Good job, VANOC.

The IOC members were whisked back to the Westin Bayshore Hotel via two Cherrey Motor Coaches from Drayton, Ont. and a Brewster bus from Banff, Alta. The Brewster bus idled for several minutes outside the civic theatre.

IOC members got down to business Feb. 10 at the Bayshore and chose Nanjing, China over Poznan, Poland 47 votes to 42 to host the 2014 Summer Youth Olympic Games. The first Youth Games are in Singapore Aug. 14-26.

Lee Kun-Hee made his first appearance in an IOC session since being readmitted on Feb. 7 by the executive board. Lee, the former head of Samsung, was sentenced to three years after a tax evasion conviction. He was pardoned so that he could make a bid to return to the upper ranks of the IOC and promote the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games bid.

PyeongChang was the runner-up when Vancouver was chosen for 2010 on July 2, 2003. PyeongChang also lost to Sochi 2014 when voting was held in 2007.

Reporter's notebook: unprepared security and woeful wifi

At the Olympics, organized chaos is the name of the game.

On Feb. 9, reporters allowed to tour the Vancouver Olympic Village were told to report to the bus loop at the cruise ship level in the Canada Place Main Press Centre by 1 p.m. We were to be pre-screened so that the motorcoaches we were going to board could drive right into the Southeast False Creek village and let us off so we could wander freely. Efficient idea. But theory doesn't always shake hands with practice at the Olympics.

The Contemporary International security screeners weren't ready for 300 reporters to show up at the same time. Ushers finally made the quick decision to separate the lines into rights-holding broadcasters and print reporters and photographers. That seemed to speed the airport-style security check, but then there was the wait on the other side of the fence for motorcoach assignment. We eventually made it to the village just before 2 p.m.

It would have been immensely easier - and more sustainable! - to hop aboard the SkyTrain from Waterfront to Main Street and walk a block to the venue security entry. That would have taken all of 15 minutes.

On Feb. 10, the NetZone wireless Internet - which costs a whopping $560 for 33 days - was not working for long periods of time at the Main Press Centre. When it did, the speed was glacial. This is the Bell and Avaya system in action and both companies ought to make improvements quickly or risk international embarrassment and calls for refunds or service credits.

Bell has been hyping the first "all-Internet Protocol" Olympics for several years while Avaya swept in and picked up certain assets of bankrupt VANOC sponsor Nortel.

Whoa Nelly! Turn Me Round and Wake Up the Neighbours!

K.D. Lang helped close the Calgary 1988 Winter Olympics. She will help open the Vancouver 2010 Games on Feb. 12.

The last dress rehearsal for the biggest winter variety show on the planet was Feb. 10 at B.C. Place Stadium and more than 40,000 VANOC volunteers and sponsors showed up to enjoy the unique event.

A source said CTV personalities Ben Mulroney and Tamara Taggart hosted the pre-show which included live appearances by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Premier Gordon Campbell, Mayor Gregor Robertson and VANOC CEO John Furlong. David Atkins, the executive producer, thanked attendees and asked them to "don't tell the secrets" of the ceremony.

Members of the Four Host First Nations started the ceremony with a welcome greeting. Performers on the white floor were dressed in white, but the cheerleaders in the grandstands sported red toques, white sweaters, grey skirts or pants and white footwear. The audience kit for interactive portions of the ceremony was not available.

Sarah McLachlan and K.D. Lang sang separately, but Bryan Adams and Nelly Furtado performed a duet.

A snowboarder flew through the Olympic rings. Four totem poles representing the Four Host First Nations popped up and slid out at centre stage. The event stopped abruptly before the portion of the ceremony in which the torch relay makes its final lap around the stadium and the cauldron is lit.

"This will make up for 2006," said a source, referring to Turin when the eight-minute handover interlude of the closing ceremony was full of Canadian cliches, such as ice-fishing and snowmobiling.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The other opening ceremony

Some 27,000 people experienced a dress rehearsal for the 2010 Winter Olympics' opening ceremony on Feb. 8 at B.C. Place Stadium. Many of those who Tweeted were impressed by what they saw, but offered few details. We do know that Sarah McLachlan performed inside and we do know that there was a spectacular display of fireworks from the stadium's ring beam around 9 p.m. Louis J. Horvitz directed the David Atkins production.

We also know that the cauldron is in the centre of the floor, the program includes a Bryan Adams' duet and the performers are in red toques, white sweaters, grey slacks or pants and white footwear.

The show wasn't complete because there is still secrecy surrounding key elements.

All will be revealed at 6 p.m. Pacific Standard Time on Feb. 12.

On Feb. 9 there is a much smaller and exclusive opening ceremony at the nearby Queen Elizabeth Theatre. The opening ceremony of the 122nd International Olympic Committee session. I have been cordially invited to sit in the gold section and wear a gold-ribbon pin for the 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. extravaganza. Few details have been released about the show, but you can bet it will include some speeches in both official languages and presentations of local First Nations culture for the world's sport aristocracy to enjoy before retiring to their ultra-secure Westin Bayshore hotel rooms for the evening.

Invitation and souvenir pin for the opening ceremony of the 122nd IOC session.

You can bet that the memory of Jack Poole will be invoked at the Q.E.T. The founding VANOC chairman will posthumously receive the Olympic order this month. A wall display in his honour was unveiled by Premier Gordon Campbell, widow Darlene and chiefs of the Four Host First Nations at the Monday opening of the Chiefs' House aboriginal pavilion. It declares Poole to be "Proud Metis. Proud Canadian. Proud Partner. Great Friend."

Politicians' small talk is always fun to listen to and sometimes cringe-inducing. At one point during a group photograph, Campbell turned to Four Host First Nations' CEO Tewanee Joseph and asked how to pronounce Eskwukweláýakalh Stamsh. That was the name given Poole during the 2008 closed-to-the-public (and media) naming ceremony at the Bayshore. The Coast Salish phrase means "pool warrior."

Whether Joseph didn't hear him or the answer was too complicated, I don't know, but Campbell eventually just called Darlene "Mrs. Stamsh."

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Right as Ron

Usually in this corner of the continent we say "right as rain."

A reply to my post disclosing some of the opening ceremonies secrets came from Ron Judd, the fine Olympics reporter from the Seattle Times. (For those keeping score, that's the Seattle newspaper that still is a newspaper. The Post-Intelligencer continues as a website only.)

His The Winter Olympics: An Insider's Guide to the Legends, Lore and Events of the Games Vancouver Edition is a worthy addition to the bookshelf of any five-ring-circus junkie. Judd also collaborated on an excellent feature about how average sports fans just can't get their hands on tickets to the 2010 Winter Olympics because most are reserved for sponsors by the IOC and VANOC-blessed monopoly.

Ron rightly points out that NBC, which has the lucrative United States' TV and Internet rights, will not show the Feb. 12 opening ceremony live to viewers of its Seattle affiliate KING 5. In fact, those in Starbucks City and elsewhere in the region will have to suffer through tape-delay of the ceremony and many of the best events which are reserved for prime-time airing.

This wasn't such a problem during previous Games, where Puget Sound viewers just turned to CBC, the only Canadian channel they got, and watched Canada's Olympic network. This time around it's the CTV/Rogers consortium which includes 14 TV services, two websites, plus radio stations and movie theatres, but isn't offered to Seattle cable subscribers.

As for, it's rather funny when I click the TV schedule link. It thinks I'm in the south-central Pennsylvania market served by WGAL. When I input a zip code for Seattle, the KING schedule appears and for Feb. 12, it's a 7:30 p.m. PT show that includes men's ski jumping on tape-delay. The tape-delayed ceremony airs at 9 p.m. PT.

By that time, the biggest televised event of Vancouver 2010 will be over and NBC host Bob Costas will be on his way back to his hotel.

Put on your red toques and dance the blues

Red toques with red pom-poms will become the must-have accessory to the wildly successful red VANOC mittens.

That's because performers in the opening ceremony will wear them along with white, long-sleeved sweaters and grey slacks or skirts. Female performers will sport white boots.

The fashions were spotted as hundreds of performers left the stadium after the Feb. 6 evening dress rehearsal and walked along the closed Pacific Boulevard to the temporary backstage tents beside the Plaza of Nations.

Those performers re-emerged in street clothes and left through the main gate, under the Cambie Bridge's north ramp. Many boarded Cantrail motorcoaches for transport elsewhere.

Those red mittens were intended to rescue the Own the Podium program which VANOC sponsors couldn't afford to finish financing. The federal government conveniently bailed out OTP with another $10 million on the same September Friday as the handwear was announced.

By the way, where are the mitts made? The label says China. VANOC refuses to be more precise.

"As per your past requests, we are not in a position to disclose the names of our manufacturers," said VANOC spokeswoman Darlene Small in mid-December.

(One of my past requests was in March 2008 before a trip to China. I was told by Burnaby-based Northern Gifts president Bob McKerricher that his company uses a factory near Shanghai to make the Miga, Quatchi and Sumi dolls. So I asked VANOC for a tour of the facility. People love factory stories, particularly the photographs and video footage that accompany them. Unfortunately, VANOC didn't share my enthusiasm and wanted to keep all things secret about the process. By then, coincidentally, it had already suspended six offshore factories for violations. But it didn't go so far as to name names.)

"There are endemic problems in China with excessive overtime, rock-bottom wages, and intense work pressures," said Kevin Thomas of the Toronto-based Ethical Trading Action Group. "Are these mittens being produced under good conditions? We don't know."

VANOC sponsor Nike regularly discloses the names and locations of its factories around the world, including China.

ETAG is among a coalition of groups under the Play Fair banner, pushing the International Olympic Committee and Games' organizing committees to adopt transparent standards to ensure workers' rights are respected. In January, the Play Fair coalition launched the campaign and ranked sportswear manufacturers. Most, predictably, didn't clear the hurdles in the eyes of Play Fair.

Sing something louder so the whole world can hear

The day after the Vancouver 2010 opening ceremony rehearsal was interrupted by a scheduled RCMP security sweep at B.C. Place Stadium, producer David Atkins was back to work fine-tuning the biggest show in Canadian history on Feb. 6.

A source inside the dome spotted a large, white stage in the centre of the floor and heard, several times, a recording of Bryan Adams singing a duet with an unknown female voice. The chorus was “sing something louder so the whole world can hear” and it included aboriginal drumming and chanting.

Among the cast of thousands were groups of aerial performers and native performers, all dressed in white.

An invitation-only dress rehearsal is scheduled for Feb. 10. The real thing goes at 6 p.m. Feb. 12. Live to the world.

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