Whistler Experience Day 4: The Snow Leopard & Usher in one day!
Another early start. Met our Canadian hosts at 0715 for a home-cooked breakfast at Chez Merrell – I knew it was going to be a fun day as we started with a Caesar (similar Bloody Mary- contains vodka, clamato (a blend of tomato juice and clam broth) , followed quickly by a Mimosa (Bucks Fizz).
After a huge plate of waffles and bacon with the obligatory maple syrup, and a tonne of coffee, we walked over to the Olympic venue at Whistler Creekside for the Men’s Slalom race – security was airport style (which I have to say was slightly OTT) before we were allowed access. Once inside the venue we grabbed our seats in the stadium just as the 3 forerunners were skiing the first course. There was live commentary from Chris Davenport and all the video playback and display you could handle on a giant screen. The atmosphere was intense and the venue was packed with loads of different nationalities – we sat beside the ‘snow leopard’s’ supporters from Ghana. The Croatians were all in to watch Ivica Kostelic, the Italians were there en-masse, everyone it seemed had a cowbell to ring, the Russians were there in hordes again and the beer was flowing. Suddenly it was time for the first of the 103 skiers (the top 30 are seeded, then the rest follow). They have a run down the first course, then a run down the second course after a short break – the times are added together and the winner has the fastest overall combined time. The best feature is that the fastest 30 skiers from the first run, then ski in reverse order for the second run – ie: the 30th placed skier in the first run starts 1st in the second run. It makes for a very exciting finale. I was blown away by the talent the skiers showed – the course was steep and very icy and visibility was awful, but they blasted down the course as if they were on rails. Out of 103 starters on run 1, only 53 posted a time and went through to the second run.
After a short interlude where we took a chairlift down to the Whistler Creekside base and had a bite to eat in the Whistler/Blackcomb sales office, it was time for the second run – this time on a different course which had been sprayed with icing chemicals and water to make the course like concrete. With the top 30 from the first run in reverse order, it was amazing to see just how competitive these guys are – for a long time a Canadian who had posted a mid-20’s placing on run one was leading as skier after skier either bombed out, straddled a gate or couldn’t beat his time.
Very tense in the stadium and the Croatians were becoming restless. Benni Raich from Austria was hoping to give his nation something from the Alpine skiing events as Austria had not performed at all during these games – the Austrian press were slaughtering the team at home. He managed to hold Bronze medal place right up to the last skier to go. The Italian Razzoli hammered the second run to become Olympic champion, pushing Kostelic into Silver, and giving the bronze to some other geezer. Raich was inconsolable. Sob. One tiny mistake was the difference between a medal and going home to a good shoeing. That said the Snow Leopard skied a magnificent second run charging into second last place over 20 seconds adrift of the winning time – he did however get the biggest cheer of the day. One thing that made a huge impression on me was the technical skill the slalom skiers displayed (including the Brits), and the fact that the winning/losing margins are so, so small – which I guess is true in all elite sport these days.
After a quick change there was enough time in the itinerary for an hour up in Whistler Village having a look round the shops – there was a 20 minute queue just to get into the Olympic Superstore. I declined. Whistler Village was heaving and the atmosphere was amazing – the Canadians have really done a magnificent job hosting the games.
Went to see another medals ceremony in the evening – the venue was packed as Usher was playing the final concert of the Games. Usher? Hmmmm….not really AC/DC. Went off to have a pre-dinner drink in the Westin bar, followed by a fabulous dinner courtesy of the Westin Resort & Spa. After dinner, we tried (in vain) to get into several bars – doormen on some, with queues to get in. I don’t do queues.