Where’s Wilson Olympic Series Part 3


Our travel expert, retired attorney, John Wilson will be a 9-time Olympian soon! Not as an athlete, per se, but definitely as an adventurer! He has been traveling to the Olympics since the 1976 Montreal Games. John will be fondly reminiscing about his Olympic past in an exclusive ICLEF 4-Part Series leading up the the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, from which our correspondent will regale us with what he learns from his Russian adventures. Please join us each week for a new installment. Click to read Part 1 & Part 2.

By John Wilson

Vancouver, 2010

Where's Wilson Olympics Series: 2010 Vancouver Olympic Flame

Because Vancouver is on the same continent as the US and its inhabitants speak English, my friends who abandoned me for Beijing resurfaced for the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010. Vancouver is one of the great cities of the world. We decided to stay in the city rather than the mountain venue at Whistler Mountain. We rented a house in Kitslano, a neighborhood in Vancouver roughly equivalent to Meridian-Kessler in Indy. Vancouver has good public transportation. To encourage Olympic tourists to use it, transport was free if you had an event ticket for the day. The weather was unusually warm, which caused some problems for a few of the local outdoor events (most of the skiing was at Whistler Mountain), but was great for the visitors. On occasion we walked the two miles or so from our house to  downtown Vancouver.

Tickets continued to get more expensive and hard to obtain. We went having tickets only for hockey and the ever popular curling. We figured we could buy more tickets, but also knew that Vancouver had plenty to offer on its own to do and see. We also correctly figured that there would be more social activities than usual during the Olympics. We did get some figure skating tickets and long track speed skating. On our day up in Whistler, we also got bobsledding tickets. Speed skating is a fun Olympic event that has a number of heats building to the best time winning the gold medal. The curling venue was on fire with passionate fans watching three simultaneous matches (and drinking beer).

ICLEF's Where's Wilson Olympics Series: 2010 Vancouver Olympic Speed SkatingICLEF's Where's Wilson Olympics Series: 2010 Vancouver Olympic Curling

Whistler Mountain is 125 km from Vancouver. Busses ran frequently from Vancouver to Whistler. Whistler is a ski resort much like Vail or Telluride.  We went up on a day that turned out to be fabulous. We had to wait a couple of hours for our bobsledding event. We were able to sit outside comfortably watching the skiers, social not Olympic. You can only see a small portion of the bobsled run at a time. You can see the whole of the event better on TV, but cannot get a true sense of the speed. They are so quick that I had trouble getting the sled in a picture as they moved out of the frame between the time I snapped the photo and the time the camera actually took it.

ICLEF's Where's Wilson Olympics Series: 2010 Vancouver Olympic Bobsled

Hockey was a focus, especially USA vs. Canada. In pool play, the US beat Canada. They later played for the gold medal. Our normally well mannered hosts to the North were working themselves into a hockey frenzy as more and more Canadians descended on Vancouver. We didn’t have tickets and needed a neutral location to watch the game, especially since my friend Tim insisted on wearing his USA Hockey T-shirt. The “House” phenomenon was building momentum in Vancouver. Not only was there Heineken House sponsored by the Netherlanders, but also USA House, Molson Hockey House, Ireland House, and our personal favorite, Slovakia House.

The Slovak Republic was previously part of Czechoslovakia. It has five million citizens. For $40 we got to hang out at Slovakia House all evening. Slovak food, drink and an Oom Pah Pah band was included.

ICLEF's Where's Wilson Olympics Series: 2010 Vancouver Olympic Oom Pah Pah band

Tim and I were the only ones there that were not either visiting from Slovakia or  Slovakian expatriates living in Canada. By the end of the evening (“you don’t have to go home but you need to leave here”), we had met and had conversation with most of the attendees including the lead commercial sponsor and the Slovakian ambassador to Canada. The good news about the USA/Canada hockey game was that the USA lost. Once it was safe to go back on the street, we joined some new Slovakian friends at Ireland House, and then returned to our Kitslano House to play piano and sing. It belatedly occurred to us that we may have stayed up a little late, when our friend Bruce who had not joined us the night before due to an early flight out that morning, clumped down the stairs with his luggage and left in his taxi. He didn’t even say good-bye.

London 2012

The five most memorable things about the London Olympics were the Opening Ceremony, the Olympic venues in the redeveloped East End of London, the volunteers, the British philosophy on ticket re-selling and our canal boat.

ICLEF's Where's Wilson Olympics Series: 2012 London Olympic Medals

If you didn’t see it, the Opening Ceremony was a reiteration of British history from Stonehenge to the present day. It included segments with chimneys spewing black smoke, the Industrial Revolution, and children in hospital beds depicting Britain’s national health care program. We watched here in Indy on TV. We did not attend because of expense and we go into the Olympics a few days after the start so the organizers can fix the ever-present logistics glitches. The general consensus of the Brits was that the Opening Ceremony program was a wonderful show. Non-Brit’s thoughts were generally, “What the heck just happened here?” Bringing it up in conversation during the Olympics was always fodder for a fun conversation.

As has been the trend, tickets continued to be expensive and harder to obtain, especially for a popular, safe and easily reached local like London. Once again the venues and Olympic Park were spectacular. A lot of the venues were on London’s formerly dilapidated East End. Plans were in place for secondary uses for the venues after the Olympics. Olympic Park was so large it took over a half hour to walk from one end to the other. The Brits had built what appeared to be a natural amphitheater in the middle of the Olympic Park which accommodated thousands of people for entertainment and to watch events on a giant screen.

ICLEF's Where's Wilson Olympics Series: 2012 London Olympic Flame

Speaking of trends, we had tickets for athletics and beach volleyball again. We also had weight lifting which I had seen in Beijing. It is very quick moving. Each lifter has ninety seconds to complete his lift. The lifters are eliminated after two non-lifts and the action builds to the gold medal. In our event, not only were three consecutive world records set, but when Ilya Iliyn from Kazakastan won, he instantly became a national hero. He was one happy guy. Being a tennis player, going to Wimbledon for the matches was most likely a once in a lifetime experience. We toured the grounds, sat on Henman Hill and saw Andy Murray and Laura Robson win their semi-final match in front of a fairly delirious local crowd (with the exception of the British lady two seats down from me who was working on her crossword puzzle).

As best I could understand, the Brits position on ticket reselling was that because the people with the most money could unfairly buy tickets that people of lesser means could not afford, anti-scalping laws were diligently enforced. While being morally admirable, the result was that people who had extra tickets could not sell them and those that wanted them could not purchase them. There were a lot of empty seats. Not to be a scofflaw, but we did buy one set of tickets for Athletics from a Russian scalper. The exchange was like something out of a Ludlum novel.

Three of us went to London. That is one more than the perfect number for the fifty-six foot long and seven foot wide canal boat that was our home in London. Booked via Airbnb, it was moored in Little Venice which is a short walk from Paddington Station. If one of the three of us wanted to move around the boat, the other two normally needed to also. It was a colorful enough situation that I awoke one morning to the sound of a Mexican TV crew being escorted though the boat by my friends as the Mexican TV folks filmed a segment on the Olympics.

ICLEF's Where's Wilson Olympics Series: 2012 London Olympic's BoatICLEF's Where's Wilson Olympics Series: 2012 London Olympic's Boat Inside

Every Olympics depends on thousands of volunteers. It can be a tough job. Long hours, early and late, bad weather and tedious work. How much fun would it be to spend four hours in cold/hot weather telling Olympic visitors getting off a train to turn left (to go to a venue)?  At all the Olympics I have attended the volunteers have been good. In London, they were great.

ICLEF's Where's Wilson Olympics Series: 2012 London Olympic Volunteers

We didn’t meet many “characters” in London. We blamed it on the neighborhood pubs closing at 11:00 p.m. or earlier. When we had a few extra days after our events were complete, we did the logical thing and flew to Prague. In a blues club in the catacombs of the city (after 11:00) when the musicians were on break, we had a conversation with two women who lived in Paris. One was French, the other from Brazil. They were interested in hearing about the London Olympics. Among other topics, the Opening Ceremony came up. We suggested that the Opening Ceremonies for Rio in 2016 should be great. The Brazilian lady rolled her eyes and said, ” It will be a cliche. All feathers and nudity.”

See you there!

Look in an ICLEF upcoming e-mail Newsletter for the final post from our Olympics correspondent in Part 4 of Where’s Wilson: The Olympic Series- Sochi.


This is one of an ongoing series of travel discussions by John Wilson, retired lawyer and trust banker. John was motivated to start this series when he realized that his travel bio was more extensive and interesting than his legal credentials for doing ICLEF talks. He has traveled to forty-five states, over sixty countries and all continents except Antarctica.

If you have travel questions or tips of your own that you would like to suggest please contact ICLEF’s travel expert, John Wilson, by Clicking Here.

Photographs © 2014, John Wilson. Photographs may not be used without permission. 

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN

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