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Remembering What It Is Like Behind the Scenes At the Winter Olympic Games

Remembering What It Is Like Behind the Scenes At the Winter Olympic Games
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JO ANN Schneider Farris and Her Daughter Annabelle Smile Together at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver

When I went to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics as a member of the press, it felt like I “made” the Olympics since the press was treated like royalty! I soaked in every moment.

I am glad my then 10-year old daughter Annabelle was able to go to Vancouver with me and I’m so very grateful to my dear friend Larisa for finding affordable housing for us.

Now, when I watch the Olympics from the comfort of my home and on television, I can’t help but think about what may be going on behind the scenes.  I can picture how exhausted those who attend an Olympic event might be if they had to take public transportation to an Olympic venue.  I can picture all the walking and the crowds.  I can picture the high security and the excitement.  I think about how the Media Center and Olympic Village might be quiet sanctuaries for the press, coaches, and athletes.  I think about all the languages being spoken.  I think about the exchange of Olympic pins.  I think about the smiles on everyone’s faces and I think about all the spectators dressed in the colors representing their respective countries.

My former employer, the now “almost gone” and what was once a wonderful website, About.com, decided to send one sports writer to the 2010 Olympics and since figure skating is the most popular of the Olympic winter sports, I was chosen.  Although I was chosen, the Olympic press pass I was able to obtain did not mean that my Olympic experience was an easy one.  I was probably more exhausted than I ever was in my entire life during those two weeks in Vancouver, but although I “ran on fumes,” I realized that physically being at the Olympics was an experience that was well worth being exhausted.

My lodging was in Burnaby, which was an hour away from where the figure skating events were and was on top of a high rise apartment in a building where my friend Larisa’s Russian-Canadian friends lived.  Our “Guest Suite” was more like a huge dorm room.  Annabelle and I shared that dorm-like room with Larisa and her son Alex.  We had to take an elevator down to the bottom floor and use a common rec-room restroom to shower and brush our teeth.  We kept our food in a refrigerator that was located in a common game room area that was also on the first floor of that apartment building.  There was no internet, television, or phone.  We had to purchase our own towels and toiletries.

My all-event press pass did not guarantee I would be able to attend all the “high-demand” figure skating events, so every day I had to leave very early from our lodging in Burnaby and take the Skytrain to the Olympic Media Centre in Vancouver to see if the USOC Olympic office had granted me the special press tickets reserved for the media.  I could not enjoy using the internet connection that other members of the media used since it was way too expensive; instead I either went to a Starbucks to write my articles (with a two hour daily limit) or tapped into a remote free internet line that was sometimes on at the high rise apartment building in Burnaby.  I usually wrote articles late into the wee hours of the morning.

From the Media Centre, if I did not have my 10-year old daughter Annabelle with me, I could have safely taken the luxurious and heated media bus to the skating venue, but usually Annabelle was with me, so we had to take public transportation.  Doing that meant I had to prepare way in advance and also it meant I had to purchase Annabelle’s Olympic tickets from scalpers and do a lot of walking in the freezing cold to the ice arena.  Also, I couldn’t leave my 10-year old alone, so for each figure skating event, I had to venture into the media center at the Pacific Coliseum Olympic ice rink to get special permission for Annabelle to sit with me in the media area.

The long hours we spent taking public transportation meant standing in the bitter cold in long lines and squeezing into buses and trains.  Much of the time, we went without regular meals since there was just no time to eat.

One day, while Annabelle was with a skating friend’s family that lived in Vancouver, I ventured into the “Mixed-Zone” area of the Olympic ice rink.  The “Mixed-Zone” is a place where the media can interact directly with the athletes since although the media can go into many of the off-limits areas, the media can’t go to some of the areas that are designated only for athletes and their coaches.

Even family members can’t go into certain areas.  This caused the families of Olympic athletes to sometimes go for days without seeing one another, but there are special designated houses where the families can be together.  Once, I ran into US Champion Jeremy Abbott’s mother as she was waiting to use the public restroom in an incredibly long line.  I was able to use the shorter lines in the media center and I’m very grateful that I was able to do that.

At the Olympic Pacific Coliseum, there was an area designated just for the press and dignitaries.  I saw Peggy Fleming walk by with Vice-President Biden in that area, but I also chatted with Olympic coach Alexei Mishin as we walked through that area together.  One of my more amusing experiences is when I approached who may have been a very important former Canadian politician asking for a photo since he was dressed in a Mountie uniform!  (He responded, “Not now, dear…”)

Buying Olympic event tickets the legit way was next to impossible in Vancouver since scalping was legal in Canada and it seemed as if all the available Olympic tickets were bought out in advance by the scalpers.  I don’t know if the same is true in South Korea, but the only way I was able to get tickets to the figure skating events for my daughter Annabelle was by going through the scalpers.  Part of my daily routine was stopping by an ATM to cash the funds I needed for my ticket purchases and after I successfully obtained a ticket from a scalper for Annabelle I always worried if the ticket would really be good.  Fortunately, every ticket I did purchase from the scalpers was legitimate.

My friend Larisa was able to obtain tickets to watch one figure skating practice session at a legitimate ticket window, but generally, observing practice sessions was off-limits to the public.  As media, I was able to see any or all of the practice sessions which was really a special treat for me.   The skaters from individual countries usually practiced together.

Vancouver somehow hid their homeless from the public eye during the Olympics by giving out free meals in an area that the public did not see.  I saw that area one evening as I rode the media bus from the Olympic Pacific Coliseum to Canada Place where the Media Centre was located.  Just seeing all the homeless in one place made me realize that there were many in Vancouver not celebrating Olympic fever.

The vendors and businesses in Vancouver certainly benefited from all the Olympic excitement.  Annabelle and I also noticed that people were friendly wherever we went.  My Olympic credential badge opened up conversations with total strangers.  We left Vancouver with memories of  the new friends we made.

Annabelle and I also remember the large big screen televisions in the Media Centre that constantly broadcast every Olympic event.  We remember the free 15-minute massages we got in the Media Centre and the wonderful food we ate in the Media Centre.  We remember the many languages we heard and the bank and store that was right in the Media Centre.  We remember all the walking we did and how much our feet hurt.  We remember skating outside and celebrating the Olympic Winter Games with people from all over the world.   And…we remember that no other experience in our lives will ever match to being at the Winter Olympic Games!

Happy Skating!

JO ANN Schneider Farris

Further Reading:

Jo Ann Schneider-Farris Jo Ann Schneider Farris has participated in figure skating for most of her life as a competitor, coach, and author. Jo Ann was the Figure Skating Expert for About.com for 10 years. Jo Ann began skating as a young child. She won a silver medal in the junior dance event at the United States National Figure Skating Championships and is a US Figure Skating Double Gold Medalist. She coached figure skating and has trained skaters of all ages and levels. In addition, Jo Ann taught hockey players to skate and gave instruction in power skating. She is the author of two skating books: How to Jump and Spin on In-Line Skates, the only book of its kind on inline figure skating, and a personal memoir, My Skating Life: Fifty Plus Years of Skating. Jo Ann also has contributed articles that have been included on the US Figure Skating website and the icenetwork.com website, in SKATING Magazine, Ice Skating Institute's magazine, the Professional Skaters Association magazine, and she also wrote about ice skating for Examiner.com. She is a member of the Professional Skaters Association, The Broadmoor Skating Club, and U.S. Figure Skating. Jo Ann is a graduate of the famous Hollywood Professional School, a school that once was in southern California where many serious figure skaters attended, including Peggy Fleming. She is also a graduate of Colorado College and holds a teaching credential from California State University Long Beach. As a figure skating competitor, she trained under World Ice Dance Champion and Olympic Coach Doreen Denny and also Darlene Gilbert, who has trained international and national teams. From JO ANN Schneider Farris: Hi and Happy Skating! Yes, Happy Skating is my motto. I hope to share my love of the sport and my knowledge of it with you and my goal is to link skaters from all over the world on this site. Happy Skating! Please join me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, or follow me on Google+ and Pinterest. Email me at joannfarris@yahoo.com

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