[b]Sergey Kanashits’ special report for Belarus magazine readers from Olympic host Canadian Vancouver [/b]Vancouver is known as one of the most comfortable cities in the world, impressive everyone, without exception. They are arriving like bees to a flower, ready for the Winter Olympic Games. I’ve just spent almost 24 hours on a plane but my jetlag and disorientation disappeared as soon as I saw the city skyline. The Olympics always causes the spirit to tremble; we can’t help feeling that we are involved in an historical event of global proportions, watching memories being created.
Vancouver is known as one of the most comfortable cities in the world, impressive everyone, without exception. They are arriving like bees to a flower, ready for the Winter Olympic Games. I’ve just spent almost 24 hours on a plane but my jetlag and disorientation disappeared as soon as I saw the city skyline. The Olympics always causes the spirit to tremble; we can’t help feeling that we are involved in an historical event of global proportions, watching memories being created.
Vancouver itself is especially suitable as a venue, being surrounded by mountain peaks and covered with tall conifers. The quiet ocean fondles the shore while white snow-covered peaks rise against an absolutely blue sky. Nature is in harmony while the sporting sites of Vancouver and Whistler hum with the excitement of records.
Unlike Belarus, it’s warm and rainy here — which seems to little suit the Winter Olympic mood — but the weather doesn’t spoil the general impression. Thoughts are concentrated on other things and everyone is keen to see as much as possible. There’s hardly a moment for sleeping.
The hockey tournament is undoubtedly the main attraction of the event. Canadians are experts in this sport, so their team is a major favourite. For the first time in its history, an Olympic tournament is being held within the NHL format — increasing the chances of local professionals. The League is international of course, so most nation’s teams boast players from the NHL ranks. Additionally, we all know that surprises are possible — as confirmed by Salt Lake City’s Belarus-Sweden quarter-finals match in 2002.
It’s hard to find tickets for these matches at the Vancouver Games. All the players are popular but, naturally, Alexander Ovechkin and Yevgeny Malkin are true idols. The Olympics give us a wonderful opportunity to talk to these sportsmen tкte-а-tкte. You can also see legendary Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky in the stands and eavesdrop on them talking to Vyacheslav Fetisov. They certainly have some interesting stories to tell. The Belarusian team is modest but proud, with its own goals and stars — such as goalkeeper Andrey Mezin. The local hockey arena is fantastic, but is rivalled by our own Minsk-Arena. However, the hockey here is of an outstanding, even galactic, level. It’s like being in a fairytale from which no one wishes to return.
Sadly, Belarus is not represented in figure skating — the second most popular sport in Vancouver, after hockey. This gracious sport is underdeveloped in our country — though why I’m not sure. On the days when Belarusians aren’t performing, it’s pleasant to watch the elegant skaters take to the rink. Yevgeny Plyushchenko took gold four years ago in Turin, but then announced his retirement; however, he is back in force, disappointing his rivals. Plyushchenko must have been bored of watching competitions rather than participating. He resumed training and, in a short space of time, was soon back on top form (some say even better). He skates perfectly and his extremely complicated programme is worthy of loud applause.
Meanwhile, we Belarusian journalists are spending most of our time outside the city, in the mountains. We leave in the morning and return in the evening. The mountains are stunning in their beauty and the clean air is refreshing. However, our personal enjoyment is secondary to our coverage of our biathletes and freestylers — our major hope.
The men’s biathlete team have undermined our faith in them somewhat, due to their weak performance last season and this. Of course, we expected better results and saw Rustam Valiullin as our leader. He is a time-tested sportsman, able to shoot without fail (as a Russian proverb says, even a stick shoots once a year). Moreover, Rustam is fast. Under favourable circumstances, he could win a much anticipated medal for Belarus. Darya Domracheva is also an athlete we can feel proud of, being among the leaders of her sport. She is likely to become a biathlon star at the next
Games in Sochi.
On the eve of the Olympics, a downpour fell on the snowy tracks near the resort city of Whistler. The temperature was just six degrees above zero and, proceeding from safety, all local mountain skiing tracks were closed. In Cypress Mountain Park (hosting freestylers and snowboarders) snow began melting. Of course, no one spoke of cancelling the Games but the mood was uneasy. Such caprices of nature are the climatic norm for Vancouver. Between 1996 and 1998, World Cup rounds for cross country skiing were cancelled three times. Afterwards, Whistler was cut from the International Skiing Federation’s calendar for a decade. Since the beginning of the winter season, 35 snow guns have been operational in the snowboard park, transforming 100 million litres of water into man-made snow. Additionally, natural snow has been stored for use in replenishing the Olympic tracks.
Last time Canada hosted the Games, there was also much worry about warm weather. On February 25th and 26th, 1988, the temperature in Calgary rose to an unpredictable 18 degrees above zero — with a sharp wind of 100km/h. Some events had to be postponed accordingly, with cross country skiers, trampoline jumpers, tobogannists and bobsleighers suffering most. However, those difficulties were nothing compared to the problems which faced the second Olympics in Swiss St. Moritz in 1928. The Alps were stricken by a sudden thaw and artificial facilities to ensure the necessary quality of ice and snow did not yet exist. The track turned into a huge puddle during the 10,000km skating race, leaving the event unfinished. Additionally, during the 50km skiing race, the temperature rose from 0 to 25 degrees above zero; the racers finished shin-deep in slush.
Such situations are mostly in the past, since we have the technology to create snow and ice where it’s needed. Those from decades past would be surprised to see what’s possible these days. Moreover, our freestylers now lead the sport; Dmitry Dashchinsky and Alexey Grishin have been taking part since the 1988 Olympics in Nagano and are still going strong. However, their rivals are also strong and it was not easy for them to claim medals in Vancouver. Two more Belarusians — Timofey Slivets and Cup season leader Anton Kushnir — are also our pride. “Oh, Belarus, Anton Kushnir!” exclaimed the freestyle-knowing Canadians on meeting our squad (distinguishing us by our uniform). It was heartening to receive such a welcome…
We all know about the idea of the ‘Olympic family’; it expresses fraternity — for sportsmen, journalists and fans. For these precious three weeks, the Belarusian team stands alongside others from around the world. We share a common goal: to demonstrate the best that is humanly possible. The team is proud to be taking part in these Winter Games and we are proud of our team!