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Blogging from Vancouver: An early take

Athletes begin arriving for Olympic Games

Amanda Evora's enthusiasm was evident as she went through team processing.
Amanda Evora's enthusiasm was evident as she went through team processing. (Mickey Brown)

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By Mickey Brown, special to icenetwork.com
(02/09/2010) - They're heeeere.

Yes, after seven years of preparation from the city of Vancouver -- and nearly four years of anticipation, speculation and prognostication from figure skating fans -- the 2010 Olympic Winter Games are finally upon us.

U.S. Figure Skating has been on the ground in Vancouver since Friday, scouting out the major venues, figuring out how to get from Point A to Point B and soaking in some of the local culture. Here's a quick-hit list of what we've found.

• There are many beautiful and really fun areas of the city; there are some you would not want to be caught dead in after dark.

• The figure skating venues, Pacific Coliseum (competition and practice) and Trout Lake Community Centre (practice), are not conveniently located, at least in relation to where most staff, media and fans are staying. They are in residential neighborhoods, on the outskirts of the city, so anyone going to these places must plan to leave hours in advance of their intended arrival time.

• Vancouver's all in. That shouldn't come as a surprise, as it takes an entire city and, really, a whole country to put on an event of this magnitude, but it's hard to fully understand the scope of the task until you witness it from the inside out. From the number of local residents wearing tags around their necks with the letters "OCOG"(Organizing Committee Olympic Games) on them to the ubiquitous green-and-blue signage to the unprecedented amount of local media coverage, the southwest corner of Canada is clearly focused on one thing and one thing only: showing the world it can match -- and possibly out-do -- what Beijing did 18 months ago.

• It doesn't yet feel like a Winter Olympics. Every day's been in the 50s. I haven't needed the winter parka yet. One NBC staffer, who shall remain anonymous, called it the "Spring Olympics." So far, he's right on.

• There is food here for every taste, and even tastes you never knew you had. Vancouver is a true melting pot of cultures, so you see a lot of eateries that fuse two distinct types of food preparation. We walked past a street cart the other day that was selling Japadogs...hot dogs prepared in a Japanese style. I didn't try one then, but they looked (and smelled) really good, so it's on my "to-do" list.

There wasn't much skating going on at the venues when we were at them. We did see Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy at Trout Lake, as well as the other German team, Maylin Hausch and Daniel Wende, and there was a lone man in a practice session at the Pac (as the locals call it), but I couldn't make out who it was.

The first U.S. skaters sighting was yesterday, when the Florida pairs and their coaches got in and went through team processing. That's when they get all their clothing and accessories from the many U.S. Olympic sponsors and licensees (Nike, Ralph Lauren, et al). They walked through a room with stacks and racks of apparel, trying on a different piece of clothing at each station, attempting to find the best fit. (They're told to wear compression shirts and shorts because they're going to be frequently stripping off articles of clothing, but some other sports' athletes didn't comply, to the delight of some male onlookers.)

Amanda Evora won the enthusiasm award for the day. She was a body in continuous motion: smiling, laughing, jumping, running. She conjured up images of Tom Cruise's infamous appearance on Oprah. I hope she saves some of her energy for when she has to skate.

The athletes also got to try on the Ralph Lauren-supplied outfits they'll wear at the opening and closing ceremonies. They're exceedingly stylish. I prefer the opening ceremonies ensemble to the closing, but I'm not much of a fashionista, so what do I know?

The rest of the U.S. skaters were supposed to arrive Wednesday and Thursday, but because of the impending snow storm in the Mid-Atlantic region, one has changed his flight to Tuesday. (Hint: Said skater will have strong opinions on the clothing he's given.)

It's not enough that these athletes have trained their whole lives to get to Vancouver; now they also have Mother Nature to contend with.