Oh, Canada

March 2, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

U.S. fans show their support at the ladies’ giant slalom event in Whistler. Photo by Chantelle Lusebrink

Issaquah residents return home with warm memories of the Vancouver Olympics

The hottest item during the Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler: red mittens adorned with a maple leaf on each palm.

By the time Issaquah resident Kristi Feder reached the Olympics, the too-hot-to-handle hand warmers had been sold out, and scalpers sold the fleece-lined mittens secondhand. The mitten episode illustrated the frenzy for all things Canadian at the British Columbia games.

“Vancouver pulled off a winner of Winter Olympics in spite of a rocky start,” Feder said. “Since weather was up to Mother Nature, they put all of their efforts into those things they could control and, for the most part, did a great job.”

Feder and other locals headed north for memorable moments — like watching figure skater Evan Lysacek become the first American man since 1988 to win gold — and high-profile snags — like the malfunctioning cauldron at the opening ceremony — as the Olympics opened closer than ever to Western Washington.

Don Alper, director of the Center for Canadian-American Studies at Western Washington University, said the games helped foster the close relationship between Washington and British Columbia and, in turn, the United States and Canada. Moreover, wall-to-wall media coverage highlighted the best attributes of the Pacific Northwest.

“The physical attractiveness of the region got good play,” he said.

The host cities — cosmopolitan Vancouver and cozy Whistler, separated by about 80 miles — offered disparate experiences to visitors.

“Whistler definitely has more of the ambience of past winter Olympics, with its enthusiastic alpine village atmosphere. The medal ceremonies are free and up close to the athletes,” Issaquah physician Betsy Evans said. “Vancouver has more of a big-city festival atmosphere, and the events and athletes feel more remote. Here in Whistler, you might find an Olympic medalist at a table next to you in any of Whistler’s restaurants.”

The visitors to the games included dozens of local residents. Hear from a handful of them about their experiences.

Cora Curre

Joe and Cora Curre

Not long before the opening ceremony started, Issaquah residents Cora and Joe Curre — and thousands of others — rehearsed. The crowd pounded drums, shined flashlights and donned ponchos to maximize the effect of lighting for the precisely choreographed production.

“Sitting in BC Place waiting for the opening ceremony to begin, I couldn’t believe I was really there,” she recalled. “It’s been my dream for many years and just looking at the Olympic rings put a lump in my throat.”

By the time the U.S. team entered the indoor stadium, Cora Curre had tears in her eyes.

“The defining moment for me was when Team USA entered the stadium,” she recalled. “I loved standing up and cheering for them and my country.”

Later, the Curres journeyed from Vancouver to Whistler to catch men’s downhill skiing and luge events.

“We were among many people that were from many countries, speaking different languages, but all laughing, yelling and applauding every athlete,” Cora Curre said. “This is the camaraderie that I had expected and was glad to experience.”

Marci Lichtenwalter

Marci and Ken Lichtenwalter

After Marci Lichtenwalter scored last-minute tickets to the Olympics, she bought a new camera and enrolled in a photography class so she could capture scenes at the games. The planning paid off: She returned from British Columbia with shots of gold medal U.S. figure skater Evan Lysacek, U.S. gold medal speed skater Shani Davis and the silver-medal U.S. men’s hockey team.

Lichtenwalter and her husband, fellow Vancouver visitor Ken, plan to display the photos she snapped at the games at their business, Klahanie Chiropractic.

Besides a gilded itinerary rounded out with a hockey game between the United States and Norway, ice dancing and men’s speed skating, the Lichtenwalters experienced memorable moments beyond the competition venues.

Aboard the SkyTrain — a transit link between downtown Vancouver and outlying cities — and around Vancouver, the Lichtenwalters bumped into Canadian Olympic Committee CEO Chris Rudge and athletes from many nations.

“The 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games were surreal,” Marci Lichtenwalter recalled. “Having the opportunity to experience events firsthand was unbelievable.”

Jeremy Jensen

Liv, Anna, Aja, Carmen and Jeremy Jensen

Organizers of the Vancouver Olympics promised a Winter Games where spectators could get close to the action. Issaquah resident Jeremy Jensen and his family learned firsthand what organizers meant at venues for Nordic, cross-country skiing and curling events.

“Many of the events that we attended were very intimate — meaning we were so close to the athletes, the media and other fans,” he recalled.

Jensen headed north with several family members, including his wife Carmen and their daughters, Aja, 6, Anna, 5, and Liv, 2.

The hospitable Canadians welcomed visitors from around the globe for the 17-day event.

“To me, that’s what the Olympics are really about — people from all over the world interacting and cheering on the athletes’ determination,” Jensen said.

Although organizers took heat for the unseasonably warm weather in the host city, Jensen said he enjoyed the sunshine and mild temperatures. His daughters returned smitten with Quatchi, Sumi and other mascots.

“They have been playing with — and occasionally fighting over — the cute toy souvenirs that we bought,” Jensen recalled.

Jo-Ellen Smith

Jo-Ellen Smith

Millions of people caught events from the stands or watched athletes in tape-delayed TV coverage, but Cougar Mountain resident Jo-Ellen Smith observed the Olympics from a different perch, as a volunteer in Whistler.

Even everyday acts, like riding a bus, turned into adventures before and during the games.

“Normally bus riding is a pretty solitary event,” she recalled. “I learned so much about many other volunteer positions — from weasel worker to [National Olympic Committee] assistant — and am still amazed at the planning that goes on behind the scenes to make the whole thing work.”

Smith brought home a unique souvenir: scissors and ribbon from the Olympic Village Whistler ribbon-cutting ceremony. Before the games, she had been picked to cut the ribbon by Village Support Services, the group selected for the honor by Vancouver Organizing Committee.

The spirit of the host country and the camaraderie of spectators left lasting impressions.

“What I enjoyed is that everyone cheered each medalist, no matter what their nationality,” she said. “The world came to Whistler, and the world cheered on all athletes for their abilities, regardless of nationality.”

Meet J.R. Celski

Federal Way native and two-time U.S. bronze medal speed skater

5:30-7 p.m., March 3

24 Hour Fitness – Issaquah Black Nugget Road Super Sport

5712 E. Lake Sammamish Parkway S.E., No. 200


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