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Olympic Outsiders

If you can't be inside the Olympic Games, then follow Seattle Times producers, reporters, videographers and Olympic fans as we take you to the streets of Vancouver, B.C., to show you what's happening on the ground and give you a taste of the scene swirling around the 2010 winter games.

February 12, 2010 at 9:46 PM

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A dramatic Day One for Vancouver Olympics

Posted by Kristi Heim

How do you begin to describe an Olympics that starts with anxiety over the weather, intense national pride and celebration seeing the torch run through the city, a band of boisterous protesters facing off with police, and a tragic death before the first competition -- maybe an emotional roller coaster?

Today was certainly like no other as the Winter Olympics officially began in Vancouver. I spent the early part of the day following the torch run and much of the afternoon watching protesters, along with a smaller but equally vocal group of Olympic supporters.

The diversity of views in Vancouver, and relative tolerance of differences, were apparent in the boisterous but mostly polite crowds. Police seemed calm and talked with people nearby. Demonstrators expressed their opposition to the Olympics in front of the world's media.

van protest.jpg

Two women stood next to each other at the Vancouver Art Gallery and shouted opposing messages but remained respectful in front of amused onlookers.

"Go Canada Go" said Anna Kosturova, draped in a red blanket with a white maple leaf, ringing a cowbell and waving a Canadian flag.

"Go to the bathroom," retorted Muriel Marjorie, brandishing a toilet plunger fashioned into an Olympic torch. "That's where your money for healthcare and education is going."

Protesters and bystanders both called the evening a success.

"I'm ecstatic," said Eric Doherty, a transportation consultant who lives on the east side of Vancouver, where the torch relay had to be diverted Friday morning to avoid several hundred protesters blocking the street. Doherty was with a group of people rallying against expansion of freeways and climate change. "We kept the torch out of my neighborhood."

Former Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan, who was carrying the Olympic torch from a special chair pulled by two runners, was the one scheduled to go through that neighborhood. His torch route was changed at the last minute because of the protesters.

Sullivan said he was upset that the diversion caused a group of war veterans and children from several schools to miss seeing the torch run.

In spite of that setback, for a mayor who was instrumental in bringing the Games to Vancouver, the torch run was an unforgettable moment in a remarkable day.

"I felt the love," he said. "I had tears in my eyes."

Eunice McMillan, a resident of the Downtown Eastside, played a drum and wore the traditional dress of the Homalco Nation to greet torch runners.

"The drumming I did is for the athletes to help them with their journey to be strong," she said.

Vancouver residents Debbie San Nicolas and her husband, Ronald San Nicolas, said they didn't think much about the Games at first but felt more excited as they approached. When the torch run passed through their neighborhood on Friday, they dressed in matching red Canada sweatshirts and came out to cheer.

"It's growing on people with every day that passes," Debbi San Nicolas said.

"Might as well enjoy it if you're going to pay for it all your life," her husband added.

Chris Matthews, a bus driver from New Westminster, walked around downtown Vancouver to visit Olympic sites and experience the city with his wife and their young daughter on the first day of the Games. They were headed to BC Place when they ran into protests and police blocking access to the area.

"I would say there's been a lot of growing pains," he said of the effort spent to prepare Vancouver for this day.

He said generally the Games have been pretty popular, but they've been overshadowed by protests.

Matthews thinks in the future Vancouver won't have any regrets about playing host to the world.

"It's going to be worth it," he said, even if right now it seems a bit messy.

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