Winter Olympics Journal

February 13, 2010 10:31 PM

2010 Olympics take off with ski jumping

ski jump.jpg

WHISTLER, B.C. -- The Opening Ceremony was last night (no explanation yet on the botched flame-lighting), but it didn't feel like the Olympics until today.

It wasn't so much the full slate of events -- luge, long- and short-track speedskating, hockey, biathlon -- or the first medal, awarded to Swiss ski jumping star Simon Ammann.

No. What brought the Games home for me was getting stuck on a bus behind Joe Biden.

The veep was on his way to the ski jump complex and security caused a huge backlog of traffic, trapping buses of spectators, media and officials. Anyone caught in his wake was late to the start of the ski jump -- a bummer for American fans since three of the first five jumpers were U.S. athletes Peter Frenette, Anders Johnson and Nick Alexander. (None of whom advanced to the final round.)

 When he finally got to the stands, Biden appeared to enjoy himself. He wore those goofy red Canada mittens with the maple-leaf palms. He took part in the wave. But geez. Take a helicopter next time.

 Ski jumping on TV can be mind-numbing. In person, it's one of the coolest Olympic sports around. The fans are crazy, you get to be outside, and people go nuts over big jumps.

 Plus, there's guys like Ammann, the Swiss star who won the first gold medal of these Games on Saturday morning. The day's final jumper, Ammann uncorked a massive leap -- a hill-record 108 meters -- to win his third Olympic gold, the most individual golds since Finnish superstar Matti Nykanen. Ammann last was Olympic champion in 2002, when he won twice.

 "Eight years ago I was so fresh and fearless," he said. "It's unbelievable that...I am back here, with a lot of confidence and energy and strength. I was ready."

 Walking among fans at the bottom of the hill, I saw three grown men dressed as dalmations, complete with dog ears. I saw five people wearing umbrella hats with the Swiss-flag cross on them. I saw one guy, cheering Poland silver-medalist Adam Malysz (the four-time world champion still looking for his first Olympic gold), jumping up and down and screaming hysterically, "Polska! Polska! Polska!"

 These people love their jumping, in more ways than one. The Olympics, thankfully, have begun.

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