VANCOUVER — There were certainly crazy things that happened inside BC Place at the opening ceremony for the 2010 Olympics: The musical entertainment included tattooed, mohawked fiddlers, K.D. Lang and Nelly Furtado (but not at the same time). There was a Canadian slam poet (who told us that “Canada is the WHAT in ‘what’s new’”). The Czechs wore pants that were louder than Zubaz. And one of the giant torch-arms malfunctioned, causing Wayne Gretzky to make the greatest facial expression ever.
My lasting memory of the opening ceremony, though, will be from what happened outside after it was finished. I bolted from my media seat shortly after Gretzky, who was one of four indoor torch-lighters (along with NBA star Steve Nash, two-time Olympic champ Catriona LeMay Doan, and senator Nancy Greene) made his way out of the arena with the final torch, which would light a second, outdoor cauldron at an undisclosed location. Once at street level, I came upon the scene of Gretzky standing in the back of a white Chevy Tahoe pickup, holding the flame, and taking off down Robson Street. I was just a few seconds too late to get a clear photo of him before he split, but you can see a blurred version of the Great One in the frame at right:
It was a cold, rainy night in Vancouver, and this Gretzky operation was being pulled off guerilla-style: No one had been informed in advance that he’d be making this tour, and so people on the street, upon seeing him, were whipped into a frenzy. They took cell-phone movies. They cheered on Gretzky. And they started running — lots of them, down the sidewalks and the middle of the street — after his truck. FlipCam in hand, I decided I might as well join the horde:
Police who were securing the route tried, mostly in vain, to keep the crowd in order as it grew organically at each additional block — about 20 in all. Shouts of “Get Gretzky!” and Ole/Oh Wayne chants filled the air, along with the sound of thousands of heavy footsteps on the pavement. By the time they reached the end of Thurlow Street where it runs into Coal Harbor, the secret location of the outdoor lighting ceremony, they had become a mob. A friendly mob, though: They watched Gretzky set the cauldron afire, and stuck around for fireworks and an impromptu sing-a-long of O Canada. It was the most spirit I’ve seen in Vancouver thus far — never mind if it was Olympic spirit, Gretzky spirit, or just drunken spirit on a Friday evening. Impressed and, like the rest of them, drenched, I made my way to the Media Center for a late-night post.