Opening Ceremonies by: Heather Mandoli

Heather is blogging on Row2K the US-based rowing website.  She is in the Canadian Womens 8 at Beijing.  Link to Row2k blog post page

Opening ceremonies are finished, and the games have officially started! Medals have already been given out this morning for some events (I think shooting had some finals today), and things have really gotten underway! The rowing regatta starts this afternoon with some heats for Day one events. Those events are the singles, pairs, heavy doubles and heavy fours. For Canada we have entries in both the men's and women's pair events. It will be great to see some racing get underway!

Last night was an unbelievable experience! The opening ceremonies were spectacular to be a part of. Unfortunately we did not see any of the great show that went on before the athletes entered the stadium, as we were waiting to walk in, but some of the highlights I saw on TV this morning looked like it was pretty awesome! Though I didn't feel like I was left out of anything not being able to see the first hour of the ceremonies, as there is really no way to explain the feeling of walking into the stadium with team Canada. It was absolutely one of the most incredible feelings of my entire life!

Let me go back and share with you the very exciting evening, right from the beginning- We left our hotel around 2:00pm to go into the village. It was about an hour drive in, with absolutely no traffic slowing us down at any point. We needed to get in the village by 3:00pm, as they closed down the perimeter and no one was allowed to go in or out for security reasons. So we got to the village and had some time to walk around and explore for a couple of hours, before it was time to gather for the ceremonies. A few of us went to check out the workout facilities and pool, as we didn't get a chance to look at it during our short afternoon in the village earlier this week. The facility looks like it has everything any athlete would need cardio or weight wise. It is all in a large temporary tent that will be removed once the games are finished. After the visit to the gym, we went over to the cafeteria for an early dinner. There we saw Yao Ming! It was neat to have our first high profile athlete spotting, though I sort of felt sorry for the guy, as he was mobbed everywhere he went. He is quite a hero around China, so all of the volunteers were running up to him and asking him for pictures, as were many of the athletes. I think all he wanted to do was eat his Big Mac (that's what it looked like he was having) with the rest of his teammates he was with. But he was having a lot of trouble as he was being constantly interrupted by people. He was also sitting close to the windows, and there were a ton of people outside taking pictures of him through the glass as well. It was really something. I'm sure it must be very difficult to be that famous!

After our linner (lunch/dinner combo), we headed over to the Canadian apartments to get dressed and ready for ceremonies. We all met out in front with all of the other Canadian athletes who were going to be marching in the athlete parade just before 6:00pm. After a few minutes to take some pictures and mingle, we loaded up onto some buses and were shipped off to the gymnastic stadium. There we were all seated in our own little Canadian section. We were there for about an hour and a half or so, visiting with other Canadian athletes, as well as wondering around and talking with athletes from all over the world. Shortly after 8:00pm, countries started to be escorted out of the holding stadium into a staging area, to eventually enter the Birdnest stadium (where the ceremonies were being held). We marched 63rd, right after Guiana. The Chinese alphabet was used to order the countries, so to us it was very hard to know which country would come in when. We started to line up at about 8:40pm. Adam Van Koeverden was Canada's flag bearer, so he was right up front leading us all, and then there were ten other selected athletes who were veteran and accomplished athletes chosen to line up right behind him. Two of which were my boatmates, Lesley Thompson-Willie (my cox'n) and Buffy Williams (our six seat in the boat). Both are amazing women who have been in the rowing program for years, this is Lesley's sixth Olympic games, and Buffy's third. And because they were right up in the selected first row, the rest of us from our boat were in the second and third row behind them. It was very cool to be able to be so close to the front, thanks to two of my amazing teammates! (Though I have heard it was hard to recognize any of us, as we had on those white hats. But I promise you, we were there!)

So from about 8:40 to about 9:40 (when we eventually entered the stadium), we slowly made our way about 500m from the holding stadium to the Birdnest stadium. We were lined up and moved very, very slowly through switchback gates, all staying in order. Outside of all the gates there were Chinese volunteers cheering and yelling and welcoming us to Beijing. They all seemed so proud to have the games here in China, as well as extremely excited to have the games finally start! Once we got a little bit closer to the stadium, there began to be a ton of media and picture taking. There was quite the build up of excitement and anticipation at this point! We entered the stadium through a large tunnel. As we started to go into the tunnel, all of the Chinese who were surrounding it started to chant, "Canada, Canada, Canada", and then once team Canada got into the tunnel we broke out in a large song of our national anthem. It was pretty unbelievable and I don't think I've ever been more proud to be Canadian in my entire life!

Then came the big moment, to come out of that tunnel and hear "TEAM CANADA" announced over the loud system and see the thousands upon thousands of people cheering and yelling. I'm not sure I can pick words to describe the incredible, amazing feeling. I get chills just thinking about it again! It is a moment of my life that I don't think I will ever forget. It is something I've watched on television many times before, but to be there and experience it first hand was really something else. I felt so Canadian and proud and for the first time, I really felt like an Olympian. It was amazing! I am so happy that we went to the opening ceremonies. That one moment of walking out of the tunnel and feeling like a part of something so big and marvelous, is worth every second of waiting and lining up and staying up late. I now feel like I am at the Olympic Games, not just some other rowing regatta. I also feel like a part of a much larger team than just the rowing team, I am part of the Canadian Olympic team. And I am so excited to race and represent Canada here at the Olympic Games!

After the walk in and around the stadium, there was a long wait for all the other countries to come in. But it was awesome to walk around and mingle a little bit with some of the other athletes and countries who were around us. One of my favorite things about watching all the other countries come in was looking at all of the outfits. There were so many unbelievable 'getups'. It was really cool to see. It took a couple hours for all of the athletes to walk in, but once everyone was in, there were a couple of speeches and other little performances, and then came the part we were all waiting for, the lighting of the torch! It was pretty awesome the way they did this! There was a retired Chinese gymnast that was lifted up to the top of the stadium and propelled around to eventually reach the torch and light it. It is a really beautiful torch. And it was very cool to have seen it lit. Right after they lit it, us rowers took off and headed to the buses. We wanted to get out of the stadium in one of the early buses back to the village, as we needed to get out and on our way back to the hotel before traffic got too backed up, since we had a little bit of a drive ahead of us. We made great time out of the stadium and enjoyed the most spectacular firework show I have ever seen in my entire life, on our walk back to the buses. After a smooth ride back to our hotel, we were all in bed shortly after 2:00am. We did fall into bed quite tired, but all very happy we had made the decision to attend. This morning we just delayed practice time a little bit, but are all feeling great and ready to start racing tomorrow!

A note on the racing, tomorrow is my heat which starts at 5:20pm Beijing time, so 5:20am EST. I'm not sure if CBC is broadcasting it live or not, so please check your local listings, before waking up early to watch! I have also heard the TSN might be showing more of the live events, and then CBC is rebroadcasting them later in the day. In our heat tomorrow we will be racing USA (two time defending world champions), Great Britain and Germany. To advance directly to the final we need to win, or else we will have to race Tuesday to try to earn a spot in the final. I'll keep you posted on how the racing goes!

One thought on “Opening Ceremonies by: Heather Mandoli

  1. Suzanne Rieger says:

    Hello Heather,,
    Congratulations – how exciting to be in Beijing, you certainly have worked hard and deserve to be there. We are feeling very proud to watch you rowing. All Kelowna, and especially your dancing friends are cheering you on. Good luck.
    Kelsey is in Argentina at the moment, but I am sure she is also glued to the TV screen.
    Again contratulations and good luck,
    Suzanne Rieger (Kelsey’s mom)

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