Blog # 7: Believe // Mel Hoyt// Posted on February 23rd @ 11:30 PM EST
Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir’s family and friends have these red long-sleeved tee-shirts that say “Believe” on them in script with “Virtue & Moir” underneath. In London, at the Canadian Championships, there were three entire rows across the arena donning the shirts, and another box of shirt-wearers behind me. At the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, there were understandably fewer Believe shirts, but I still can spot them in the backgrounds of some of my photos.
Thanks to CTV’s “Believe” merchandise and Suzie McNeil’s tribute to Olympic athletes (including Joannie Rochette) in the music video to her song “Believe,” the word became a mantra for the Canadian Olympic team during the Vancouver Games. At first, it seemed like the confidence from the Canadian public and the media had turned into pressure, and I was angry when Jenn Heil’s (moguls) silver medal on the first night was tinged with disappointment, when Melissa Hollingsworth (skeleton) tearfully apologized to her country on national television when she failed to reach the podium. I worried that confidence had turned the corner to expectation, isn’t the pressure of just being at the Olympics and competing in front of the world enough?
But slowly, the stories turned from disappointment to triumph. After four gold medals in the first week, Canada surged into the second week with high hopes and emerged from the games with ten more, fourteen golds in all — a Winter Olympics record. They won the gold that the country needed (men’s hockey), the golds that would have been consolation prizes if they hadn’t won men’s hockey (men’s curling and women’s hockey), and the gold that mattered most to me — ice dance.
And I was there.
I’m not sure when that will sink in, or which is more impossible to fathom — that I was there for North America’s first Olympic gold in ice dance, or that I was there when Tessa & Scott, the fresh-faced kids I’d met five years earlier, won Olympic gold.
I saw Tessa & Scott skate live for the first time in 2005, at their first Canadian Championships on the senior level, in London — home ice for them. I’d seen videos of them before, and I knew they would make a big splash. I was sitting in the front row, and I remember them skating past me during the warmup for their OD, looking up into the packed arena with starry eyes, Tessa in a pale blue party dress, Scott in a white suit. (This was before I was a photographer, and I thought the white suit was charming.)
I was in the stands again the following year when they won their first senior Canadian medal and for the debut of their tango in 2006 that vaulted them into maturity. I was standing boardside the first time they skated “Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” which carried just as much emotion in its debut as it did when it carried them to the world podium. I was in the Pacific Coliseum two years ago when they became Canadian champions, and even then, I knew that another important moment would come in the same arena in 2010. I was back in that arena in 2009 for Four Continents, watching them fight through a difficult competition, seeing the pain on Tessa’s face and the concern on Scott’s that they tried so hard to mask, worrying that their chance would be over before it really began, and I was in Kitchener when doubts were erased nine months later at Skate Canada. In January, the coronation was complete: five years after their senior debut in London, they returned home to win a third Canadian title, to break the Canadian record, to hit 70 points in the original dance — something I hadn’t even thought possible, to be formally named to the Olympic team.
During that moment in London, I was so proud. Skate Canada had encouraged the crowd to wear red & white to the arena on Sunday, and when the hometown team was announced as Olympians and sent off to Vancouver with a flourish and some guy across from me was waving a giant flag on a giant pole, I felt so honoured to be present for such a magical moment.
Nothing against London — that really was a beautiful moment — but I’ve never experienced something as incredible as the moment Tessa & Scott created in Vancouver. Though the home crowd erupted when they took the ice, the gentle pair quieted them with the precision and grace of their balletic free dance. Their twisting and flipping lifts elicited gasps and applause, but for the majority of the four minutes that they owned the ice, we were spellbound.
I looked around afterwards, tried to take in the mayhem. It was as if every maple leaf waving in the arena was emblazoned with the word “Believe.” I didn’t need scores — I already knew. And even though at least half the crowd was only marginally educated on ice dance, they seemed to know, too. We all believed.
Twenty minutes later, I was standing on top of Olympic gold. My friends and I had scored the most incredible tickets a few hours before the event. We were sitting almost centre, something like six rows from the ice, two rows above the tunnel. Our tickets were for three seats and then two more seats in the same row, but with three other seats between us. Fortunately, a kind girl named Stephanie and a kind couple from Seattle offered to slide over a few seats so we could sit together. When they brought the medals out and were waiting for the medalists to finish up in the mixed zone, or wherever, they were right below us. The women sitting in front of us were standing and they turned around to ask if we could see the medals. I couldn’t, so I climbed into their row and stood on the arms of the chair in front of me, holding my camera out to get a better angle and praying I wouldn’t drop it. I could see the medals, but it still felt like a dream.
When Tessa & Scott were finally given those medals to wear, they sung along triumphantly to their national anthem with several thousand proud Canadians — and a few proud Americans who happen to know the words. I say that I can’t believe it happened, but that’s only because I haven’t processed it yet. I’ve always believed. With glowing hearts, we all believed.
Blog # 6: VANOC Rush // Mel Hoyt // Posted on February 22nd @ 11:15 PM EST
Day 4 in Vancouver was a beautiful Sunday and it began early. I’m normally disgusted by 4:30 a.m. wakeup calls, but getting up at 4:30 to go to dance practice at the Olympics? That’s not so bad! Since we weren’t sure how long transit would take so early in the morning and how often the trains and buses would run, we gave ourselves some extra time to get the arena, and I was relieved that we did. Even despite a couple of waits and realizing that VANOC really has made the walk from Hastings St. to the doors of the Pacific Coliseum impossibly long, we burst into the doors and rushed toward the ice, only to discover that it was still empty. We had a few minutes to catch our breath after our jog from security to the doors, and then the first group was announced.
I was sitting in the stands, shaking so much I could hardly point my camera at the ice. Even though I’d already spent two and a half days in Vancouver and was starting to absorb the feeling of being at my first Olympics, I couldn’t believe I was inside the arena, photographing ice dance on Olympic ice. How did I get so lucky?
Unfortunately, the euphoric feeling crashed a few hours later. The last group of dancers was almost finished when I got the text from Michelle with the news about Joannie’s mom. My friends and I have known Jo for a long time — I met her in 2003 — and we were heartbroken for her. During the rest of the practice, we chatted with some people and got a few more details, but we were too shocked to process it. Before we heard anything, we’d been disappointed that the audience was going to be asked to leave at noon, and Jo wasn’t scheduled to skate until 2. After the news, however, I was relieved. I can only imagine how difficult that would have been to watch, and I wouldn’t have wanted her to feel extra pressure to perform in front of the practice crowd.
Jo was on our minds throughout the day, but once we left the arena after practice and discovered a picture-perfect day and a blue sky, most of the excitement returned. Since there are several photographers in my group, we staged an impromptu photoshoot in front of a fence that said “Vancouver 2010” and stayed until the volunteers had to kick us out so they could secure the area before they reopened for the OD.
Three of the girls in my group had upper bowl tickets for the OD, but after hearing that tickets were available outside the arena on the day of the event, Michele and I decided to try our luck with scoring tickets as well. After lunch and an uphill hike to an ATM that would dispense cash from an American account, I’m proud to say that I completed my first ticket negotiation. Of course, there wasn’t much to negotiate. We met a very nice ticket-seller from Montréal who had two tickets in the 12th row of the lower bowl on the end opposite the kiss & cry. Sold!
Two hours after that, I was watching my first Olympic skating competition, it was ice dance, and I was in the lower bowl! The only thing that would have made it better would have been a different OD theme, but even though I complain about folk, I really did enjoy the competition. So did the people around me, many of whom fell into the “Olympic fans” category, not “skating fans.” It was a fantastic moment to see Tessa & Scott leap into first place with their fiery and precise flamenco. The home crowd went crazy, of course. I felt bad for Tanith & Ben, who were on the ice the whole time, waiting for things to settle down so they could begin, but they handled the pressure well and gave another great performance.
I have to admit that after the mess that was the OD in Torino, I was bracing myself for something catastrophic, but there wasn’t a single fall. It didn’t feel like there were many mistakes at all, at least not large mistakes that distracted from the performances, and the energy in the building was exciting. The one exception was the performance of Oksana Domnina & Maxim Shabalin, whose Aboriginal program had received so much negative press in the weeks between the European Championships and the Olympics. From the comments that I heard around me, I think that people who weren’t familiar with skating were expecting them to do a different program, not understanding that it usually takes weeks to choreograph a new competitive program and months to polish it. There were some changes since Euros, yes, but it still felt like more than a caricature than a tribute, and the feeling in the arena after they skated was quite awkward.
Overall, though, I saw some fantastic skating at the OD, and as my fatigued troupe returned to the suburbs for another half-night of sleep, we agreed that Sunday was fantastic, but we had even higher hopes for Monday
Blog # 4: The Jackson Hotel & Olympics Past // Mel Hoyt// Posted on February 20th @ 9:15 PM EST
Friday was Day 2 and our first full day in Vancouver. We didn’t have tickets to any events that day, so we decided to just head downtown and soak up more of the atmosphere. We had a great start to the day when the Jacksons, our fabulous hosts, rolled out an incredible breakfast spread of muffins, croissants, hot chocolate, flavoured tea, coffee, juice, yogurt, and even non-dairy milk for those who aren’t fans of lactose! Best “hotel” we’ve ever stayed in!
First on the agenda was to see the flame downtown. We took the train to the waterfront and walked past the Main Press Centre and the International Broadcast Centre. Both facilities looked gorgeous, and Christina and I looked wistfully at the MPC, knowing that there’s a giant Canon storeroom inside.
Seeing the flame up close was one of the first moments when the reality of the Olympics hit me. Unfortunately, they had to put up a big fence to prevent vandalism, but we were still able to get fairly close and I did some creative shooting to get a few shots without the chainlink fence in view. I even climbed up on a concrete barrier and Jules had to hold my legs so I wouldn’t fall forward. Even if I’d fallen, as long as the camera wasn’t hurt, it would have been a small price to pay for photos of the Olympic flame!
At twilight, we went to the Olympic Clock, which began counting up instead of down at the start of the opening ceremony. The girls and I took photos at the clock two years ago, while we were in Vancouver for Canadians, in hopes that we’d be back for the Games. It was hard to believe that we were really standing there on Day 6! There is an Omega display at the clock now, with posters from past Olympics. I took photos of a few of my favourites, including 1980 Lake Placid, which commemorated Miracle on Ice, and 1984 Sarajevo, which commemorated “Bolero.” I also took a photo of 1948 St. Moritz, even though I thought that Barbara Ann Scott should have been on the poster, and it was a ski jumper instead.
We went to Ebisu for dinner and had some good and reasonably-priced sushi, much needed after a 1-1/2 hour wait for a table! We watched the compulsory dance while standing and waiting for a table, but the audio in the restaurant was for the TV playing curling, not skating. It was a bit tough to watch a CD without music; fortunately, I can hum several tracks of the Tango Romantica on command. We were initially seated at a table in a corner and we had to crane our necks and lay halfway across the table to watch Tessa & Scott, who skated just after we sat down, so when our waitress noticed that we were Olympics fans, she moved us to a booth near the bar, where we could watch the big screen. Since skating was over at that point, we were appreciative, but didn’t think it would be a big deal. Turns out that we were wrong — that was the night that Canadian Jon Montgomery won gold in skeleton! Two celebrations over dinner in a row, after the hockey shootout win on Thursday! We sang “O Canada” with the other restaurant patrons and everyone cheered.
Once we left, the madness continued on the streets. We found a cupcake shop just off of Robson, and if there’s one thing my friends and I love as much as sushi and the Olympics, it’s cupcakes! We thought about going into one of the houses or something, but it was so insane out on the streets that we didn’t see any reason to stand in line somewhere. Instead, we just enjoyed the atmosphere, joined in with random “O Canada” outbursts, gave high fives, and some random kid who looked like he was about 17 told me I was cute and kissed the top of my head. Somehow, in the context of the rowdiness on the streets, that seemed fairly normal.
Blog # 3: CD Recap // Sue D’Onym // Posted on February 20th @ 7:53 PM EST
Tango Romantica — the sensuous dance that shows the flavor of the Argentinean dance — happens to be one of my favorite compulsory dances, so watching this event was especially exciting for me. Let me clarify a couple of things: since I am obviously not on the panel, I am not speaking on behalf of judges but rather providing my idea of why each team got the scores they did; these are purely my opinions and no one else’s; and finally, all skaters did a great job and they should all be commended for their performances and efforts throughout the competition. One more thing I would like to add, I missed the first few teams that skated live on NBC. I was unable to catch every single team, so therefore, not all teams will be covered. Thanks!
Delobel/Schoenfelder: For their first competition after being away from the scene for about a year and a half, you have to respect Delobel & Schoenfelder for their comeback. I felt some of the steps were a little sluggish and not as crisp as they could have been, but they skated very close together. Their edges were solid, but they did not fill in the pattern as much as the top three teams.
Samuelson/Bates: The first of the three American teams, competing at their first Olympic Games, Samuelson & Bates skated a confident tango. This team is known for their extension, and it was showcased beautifully in this dance. They could have filled in the corners of the end patterns, but they had nice edges and unison.
Davis/White: Davis & White skated a technically beautiful dance. Their edges were deep, their unison was excellent, and they are a great example of having the crisp yet romantic character of the Tango Romantica. Their pattern was huge; you can really see the depth of the lobes. Personally, I thought this was one of the strongest dances of the competition.
Domnina/Shabalin: Domnina & Shabalin skated a solid dance, especially with his injury. This team took a sharper, more traditional tango approach to the expression of the dance. While this team was also very technically sound, I felt that Davis & White’s pattern was slightly deeper.
Belbin/Agosto: The reigning Olympic Silver medalists skated a very well-expressed tango. They showed a lot of improvements and skated well for not competing the dance all season. I did feel that they got a little off time in the first section of the second pattern, but they still put up solid scores.
Virtue/Moir: The Canadian champions and reigning world bronze medalists skated a very romantic dance. They skated with a lot of flow and passion. I thought this was the best performance of the dance. Their feet could have been neater in comparison to the other two, but it was a very strong dance.
Blog # 2: Team Spirit // Mel Hoyt // Posted on February 18th @ 7:53 PM EST
Wow! I can’t believe I’m at the Olympics!! My flight to Seattle arrived at about 11 yesterday morning and Jules, Michele, and I rented a car and drove up to Vancouver. We ended up parking at the airport and met the rest of our group, Christina and Jen, downtown by BC Place. The experience of just walking through downtown was unreal. Everyone is dressed in Team Canada gear, it seems, maybe since it’s a lot more affordable than the gear from the other countries! Of course, it’s a great feeling to be cheering for the home team, something we experienced firsthand when we decided that the first order of business downtown had to be dinner. The restaurant was broadcasting the Canada-Switzerland hockey game, which turned out to be a close one, and if I couldn’t see the TVs in the restaurant, I just had to stand up and I could see the game on giant outdoor screens across the street. When the game went into a shootout, the whole place stopped eating and got up to watch the TVs in the bar and when Canada won, everyone went nuts. Someone had a huge Canadian flag on a pole and was pushing through the crowd, running up and down the stairs, waving it the whole time.
Of course, last night was also a big night for skating, and I still can’t believe that I watched the last flight of men from inside the “Olympic Superstore” at The Bay! My friends and I weren’t the only people who literally paused our shopping for about an hour to take in the action on the big screens above the cash wrap. It was a little tough to hear the audio, so I don’t think I can fully comment on the performances, but as a Chicagoan, it’s very cool that someone from my city stood up to the pressure so well and overtook the favourite!
Today is another big day, since I’m so excited about dance finally starting! I’m not going to the event tonight (I actually don’t have tickets for any skating competitions), but I’ll try to catch some of the action while we’re downtown. I think we’re going to see the flame today, check out some of the houses that are open to the public, and just take in more of the atmosphere.
Blog # 1: The Olympic Dream // Mel Hoyt // Posted on February 17th @ 11:47 AM EST
The first Olympics that I watched were the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville. I was seven. My mom called me into the living room to watch TV with her because she thought I would like the figure skating. In short, she was right. Over the next two weeks, we watched every night and I was swept up in the excitement, even though I was young. I begged her to let me stay up late so I could watch the finals, and I cheered heartily for Team USA from our couch. I raced through my math worksheets in the afternoons after school so I could watch fellow Illinoisan Bonnie Blair collect medals in primetime. I helped my mom grade her French quizzes (she let me check the multiple-choice sections) while we rooted for the Duchesnays to win gold. I asked every night if the pretty girl in the pink outfit (Natalia Mishkutenok) was going to skate again. My mom said no, but she was wrong. She skated in the gala.
But for me — a seven-year-old American who loved dance classes, piano lessons, and baseball games — the biggest moment of Albertville came at the end of week two when Kristi Yamaguchi brought home a figure skating gold for Team USA. I was so emotional even then. I remember hiding my face in a tasseled throw pillow so my mom and stepdad wouldn’t see me crying. There was no turning back after that. I was hooked on the Olympics and hooked on figure skating.
That year, I dreamt that I would be an Olympic figure skater someday. When I was eight, and much wiser, I realized that if I wanted to be an Olympic figure skater, I should have kept skating after the eight-week class that I took when I was four. However, since I had been doing gymnastics for a whole year and had mastered a lovely cartwheel, I was pretty sure that I had a shot at winning Olympic gold on the floor exercise. I asked my mom if I could move to Houston and live with my uncle so I could train with Bela Karolyi. She pointed out that first, I needed to master a back walkover so I could move from intermediate to beginning advanced tumbling classes.
When I was eleven, I grudgingly accepted that I was terribly uncoordinated and would probably never be an Olympic athlete in any sport, but I never stopped dreaming about the Olympics.
Life changed for me in 2003. I started attending skating events and met the girls who have become some of my best friends. So when Vancouver was awarded the 2010 Olympic Games in the summer of 2003, we started planning for it. Seven years ago, I thought my life today would be quite different from how it’s turned out, but I had no problem imagining that I could squeeze in the Olympics. Life would stop for the Olympics; it always had before.
I remember being in the car with my mom, on a road trip, talking about the Vancouver dream. “You don’t have any idea if you’ll be able to go,” my mom said. “A lot could change before then. You could have kids before then!”
“I’ll figure something out,” I said. “I have to go.”
Well, I don’t have kids. However, I don’t have a “real” job either and I am in grad school, so I wasn’t positive that I’d be making the trip to Vancouver until just two months ago. Somehow, everything ended up falling into place for me — and for the four friends who will join me. We’re all going to our first Olympics together. I met all of them in 2003.
I’ve spent the past two months trying to imagine what it will be like today, when we drive into Vancouver and the five of us are together, when we stop for our first photo op in front of Olympic rings, when I see the flame, when we’re finally inside the figure skating arena for Olympic practice on Sunday morning. I try so hard to imagine it, even though I still can’t even believe that I’m going. I wonder how long it will take before it sinks in, and if I’ll ever find the right words to explain what it means. I only know that it will be magical.
In his speech at the Opening Ceremonies, VANOC CEO John Furlong described the Olympic magic as “magic that causes the athletes of the world to soar and the rest of us to dream.” Maybe there’s nothing but Olympic magic to explain why I’ve hung on to an Olympic dream for so long.
At work on Tuesday, I joyfully announced to some of my co-workers that I wouldn’t see them for over a week, since I was going to the Olympics. One of the girls asked why I was going to the Olympics.
“Because it’s my dream,” I said.