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The view from inside the opening ceremony

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff  February 14, 2010 11:50 AM

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Luger Megan Sweeney, of Suffield, Conn., will provide insight and commentary in occasional blog posts for Boston.com throughout the Winter Olympics.

To say that my opening ceremonies experience was all that I had dreamed of and more would be a lie.

I can’t ignore the fact that one of our fellow luge athletes wasn’t getting the chance to walk. He wasn’t getting the chance to fulfill his Olympic dream. Our small sliding community was shaken by the sudden death of one of our own and on a day like Friday, it brought a sense of reality to an otherwise outrageous hype.

The day started with the men’s training and yes, there were some crashes, but that is nothing out of the ordinary. I was watching the training session and decided to make my way back to the Village before the end so that I could rest up before the 2.5-hour drive down to Vancouver and the madness that was sure to ensue when marching.

Upon arrival at the Village I was checking my e-mail when a bobsled friend of mine called to inquire about the news. I had no idea what he was talking about at first but quickly learned of the tragedy. Our team pulled together along with the rest of the luge community and though not all of us decided to walk in the opening ceremonies, my team did. We were going to support USA, our flag-bearing teammate, and the luge world.

We all quickly dressed in our uniforms, congregated in front of the USA housing with the rest of the US athletes and boarded a bus along with Poland and Cypress that would take us down to Vancouver. We were quite the sight to behold! We had a total of 10 buses, a tag-team of police escorts, and helicopter security.

People would honk their horns, wave out their windows and just stop on the highway to watch. The most humbling site for me was a construction worker. He doesn’t know me, yet in the middle of his workday, he stopped, got out of his truck, and stood there with his hard-hat over his heart and watched our entire procession. That respect, that hope, that integrity that he showed to a caravan of strangers is what makes me proud to be an athlete.

The rest of the ride down to Vancouver I spent trying to get my emotions in check and psyching myself up for what I had been waiting so long for -- my chance to represent the USA in opening ceremonies. We finally got to Vancouver (fortunately before the protesters arrived, which blocked some athletes from coming into staging) and went directly to the BC Arena along with all of the other athletes.

It was incredible to see everyone united and ready to make the trek into the stadium … but we were going to wait FOREVER! It’s to be expected, and everyone was so excited, but it was SO HOT!! So many bodies, so many puffy jackets and sweaters (but we looked good!) Fortunately, my body has a very high threshold when it comes to heat so I was fine until an hour later when we were still waiting… but we managed!

Some fared better than others, but behind the scenes the reality of competition was setting in. Our teammate and flag bearer, Mark Grimmette was concerned initially that the flag would be extremely heavy and the positioning of it could hurt his back for our races. The speed skaters that were lined up behind us were sitting on the concrete floor or in chairs that they could snag so as to save their legs, and my teammates and I were joking (half-hearted) about how much weight we were losing because we were sweating it all out! But as the lines started moving to the tunnel entrance, all that subsided.

Volunteers and performers were standing along the sides taking pictures and cheering us on. When one country would start chanting, the rest would try and outdo them. Every time Mark raised our USA sign, we would all start whooping and hollering, clapping, and screaming “U-S-A!! U-S-A!!” But when we turned the corner, saw the lights, cameras, and people, there was a split second that everyone just stopped.

My body got a shake, and as we moved onto the stage covered in fake snow, all I could feel was the drumming of the natives beside us. The clapping was deafening, and I wanted to cry. My smile could have broken my face, it was so big! For two minutes my life felt complete. I rounded the stage, sprinted up the stairs and was about to sit down when our cue -- “the athletes tribute song” -- came on the big screen and I had to leave the show because I had training the next morning.

I am sad that I didn’t get to see the show, but at the end of the day, I am here for business. I am here to race. So closing ceremonies will be my time to enjoy the show and all that it has to offer! 

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