Vicariously Reliving My Former Days of Olympic Glory

Hanging with Bonnie Blair at the USA House

Four years ago after a whirlwind contest and painstaking selection process, I was honored to be the the Grand Prize Winner of Microsoft Office’s Winter Games Contest and was their accredited blogger at the 2010 Vancouver Games. As an avid winter sports enthusiast, this was a dream come true! For a stroll down memory lane, be sure to read all my behind-the-scenes adventures including how The Today Show’s Matt Lauer stole my moment in the spotlight, what it was like to hang out with Bonnie Blair (the most decorated woman in winter Olympic history) as Apolo Ohno broke her longstanding Olympic record and how I put my foot in my mouth when meeting”The Great One” Wayne Gretzky.

Vancouver was my third Winter Olympic Games. I grew up in Calgary and was thrilled to attend several events at the 1988 Winter Olympics and several years later I lived in Salt Lake City during the 2002 Winter Olympics. If you’ve never been to the Olympics, I’m here to tell you there is nothing like it and the host country is on fire as it showcases the world’s best competitors.

Do I wish I was going to Sochi, Russia? You betcha and I’ll be glued to the television Feb. 6-23, 2014. During that time, we’ll hear a lot of athlete profiles but what about the mom behind these success stories?  What does it really take to get to Sochi? There are a lot of difficult questions for the families, particularly since most athletes do not make the Olympic team until a month prior. As a mom, how do you plan and what kind of a financial investment is it to see your child fulfill their dream at the Olympics?

So I asked my friend Allison Scott from Colorado Springs, the mom of four-time U.S. Figure Skating Champion Jeremy Abbott.

Q: What does it really take to get to Sochi?

For the families, that’s a difficult question. Let’s break this down. Flights: Back in August, “on the cheap” flights through Kayak were about $1,700 US each round trip with two stops taking a  total of 24 hours.

Hotels (because that’s your only choice) for 10 days: You can’t even GET a price….

Click here to read my fascinating interview with Allison. What do parents of Olympians do about buying plane tickets and hotels when they won’t know if their child has made the Olympic team until only a  month prior? How much is it costing her to go to Russia? These questions and more are answered!

 

2010 Vancouver Olympic Games: I Had the Time of My Life!

Hanging out with Bonnie Blair at the USA House

As my epic Olympic journey draws to a close, I feel like some sort of punctuation mark is in order.

And it is a big ol’ exclamation mark!!!

I had the time of my life taking part in the Office Winter Games Contest and these are just a few of the many reasons:

1) Hanging out with Olympic speed skating legend Bonnie Blair. She is every bit as genuine, spirited and delightful as she seems on camera. My fondest memory is when we were reprimanded for being too loud.Talk about a kindred spirit.

2) Representing Microsoft Office ’10. At various points in the trip, most technology failed me. I.e. I couldn’t find reliable Wi-Fi, had phone problems in a foreign country etc. Some days, the only thing that saved me was being able to crank out a draft in Word and directly upload it to my blog (a new ’10 feature) whenever I found a connection. Kudos to Microsoft Office ’10 for being so social-media friendly and a delight to promote.

3) Meeting “The Great One” Wayne Gretzky.

And greatly putting my foot in my mouth.

4) Seeing my son’s namesake Bode Miller win his first medal–a bronze–in the downhill.

Meeting Al Roker at the Today Show

And then racing a mile in my clogs to meet Bode in person at a press conference, all for naught.

5) Having the Today show’s Matt Lauer steal my moment in the spotlight. I later promoted my blog post about it on Twitter and the Today show commented how funny it was and retweeted it to their 582,714 followers.

Which is just 2 more followers than me.

6) Interviewing. A few of the people I interviewed: six-time gold medalist Bonnie Blair, gold medal aerialist Nikki Stone, CEO of the United States Bobsled & Skeleton Federation Darrin Steele, Director of Media Services Bob Condron, USOC’s Associate Director of Food and Nutrition Services Terri Moreman and so many more.

7) Being interviewed. It was also fun to have the tables turned and receive some media placements of my own. With Microsoft Office’s ace publicity team, I was featured on the front page of CNN Tech, Denver Post, Arvada Press, Mormon Times, the Seattle Post Intelligencer, the Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, LDS Living, CNet, Fox 31, Channel 2 and I had multiple call-ins to one of Colorado’s top radio stations, KOA radio.

I would add the Today show to this list had Matt Lauer not stolen my moment.

8) The Canadian men’s hockey team’s dramatic finish. Even though I am proud to live in the United States and cheer for our inspiring athletes, hockey is Canada’s game. The gold-medal-win secured Canada’s record as the nation with the most gold medals ever during an Olympic Games.

The Great One, Wayne Gretzky

This journey would not have happened if it was not for the countless hours Microsoft Office’s team put into it. Special thanks to the United States Olympic Committee for the assistance they provided us. And most importantly, thank you to everyone who voted me there.

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Though I was sad to leave Vancouver, I was thrilled to return to a loving family, clean house, birthday streamers the color of the Olympic rings and a belated party.

Of course, reentry into the real world is not completely smooth after having The Time of Your Life. The morning after I returned, my husband Jamie (notorious for taking long showers to soothe his sore back) used all the hot water.

Me: “My shower was COLD this morning!”
Jamie: “After leaving me with the kids for 10 days, you haven’t yet earned the right to complain.”

You won’t hear any complaints from me for a very long time.

Thank you for following my Olympic journey! Of course, my family’s hilarious experiences continue. We are currently in Aspen/Snowmass and then will be at Park City Mountain Resort the following week. Tune back in for our many misadventures!

The Official Olympic Entourage

The people accompanying me during my Office Winter Games journey are a large part of what has made it memorable for me.

In the beginning, I had an entourage of six people following me around. (Photo: Roger, Rich, Brendan, Anthony and Krista)

In the end, I was down to just two.

I totally understand how those one-hit-wonder bands feel.

 

My experience would not have happened if it was not for Robin Cecola. He is a marketing consultant for Microsoft Office who drove the entire contest and acted as the intermediary between the United States Olympic Committee and me.

He is also the most connected person I know, having worked at Columbia Records for a number of years. Whenever we’d hit a roadblock, a light would come on and he’d confidently say, “Don’t worry. I know someone.”

I know a lot of people, too. The difference between Robin and me is his “someones” make “somethings” happen.

With Krista and Robin

Krista Ulatowski of Waggener Edstrom was my right-hand woman for seven days to keep me in check and on schedule. She is also a fashionista, classy, lovely and a fantastic publicist. I’m sure she knew I would be handful when, mere moments after we met, I somehow finagled a man-on-the-street camera team to interview me about my take on women’s hockey.

And yes, I think there should be fighting.

Publicist Natalie Blick joined me from Portland for my final three days. If I had to use two words to describe her, they would be “chatty and perky.” Of course, those also describe me. This just means no one around us was able to get a word in edgewise.

Anthony and Roger joined us for the first few days. Anthony is the larger-than-life Director of Microsoft Office Public Relations and Roger is a physical therapist.

I adored them both.

We affectionately nicknamed Anthony “The Godfather,” because that was his role in bringing the Microsoft Office ’10 contest to fruition. He’s passionate about the product launch in June and one of the great things about him is you always know exactly where you stand.

In his words: “I just say out loud what other people are already thinking.”

If it doesn’t work out to have Bonnie Blair as my new BFF, Roger would be my second choice. He was our delightful, humorous and doting Sherpa. Some of my fondest memories are introducing him to the Canadian treat Nanaimo Bars in the media center and his shopping frenzy at the Olympic Superstore where he bought 15 pairs of Olympic mittens.

The dude’s hands must get really cold.

Not to be forgotten is my film crew Rich and Brendan (otherwise known as “The Stalkers.”) For the first four days of my Olympic experience, they were assigned to capture my every move. Traveling with film makers is just like being with small children:

They have a lot of crap but at least no diapers.

At first, I was self-conscious about their presence but loosened up when I realized a film crew = power. Wherever we went, people would clamor to be in our background shots, trying to figure out if I was famous.

I didn’t attempt to convince them otherwise.

Rich and Brendan left on Tuesday. As we were saying our sweet good-byes, Rich expressed what a delight I was to work with and how much he’d miss me.

I then reminded him of the 100 hours of The Amber Show video footage he’d have to wade through.

He got over it.

The Colbert Report, Whistler’s USA House and a Gold-Medal-Winning Mom

One morning, Krista and I went to see the taping of Comedy Central’s Colbert Report at Creekside Park. While we were waiting for Stephen Colbert’s grand entrance, we watched his hilarious vignettes as he attempted various Olympic sports (curling and speed skating were my favorites).

When Colbert finally made his appearance, it was confirmed that he is a rock star in Canada because it looked and smelled like a Bob Marley concert.

Though I’m sure ol’ Bob never had a giant Canadian moose on his stage.

Or was seen riding an eagle.

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There are two USOC-run USA Houses at the 2010 Vancouver Games. One is in Vancouver and the Whistler location is in a multi-million dollar mansion.

I was privileged to meet bobsledder Chuck Berkeley (whom one of my companions nicknamed Adonis the Greek God).


Trust me. He looks better without the helmet.

I met Nikki Stone, the first-ever Olympic Champion in inverted aerial skiing. With her daughter Zali cuddled up to her, we chatted about motherhood and the release of her book When Turtles Fly, a compilation of inspirational tales from some of today’s most brilliant athletes and leaders.

Two years before winning a gold medal, a chronic spinal injury prevented her from standing and 10 doctors told her she would never strap on a pair of skis again. Her tenacity and refusal to step down from a challenge helped her earn 35 World Cup podiums, eleven World Cup titles, four national titles and two Overall World Grand Prix titles. She then endured a painful pregnancy to have her daughter.

This Park City-dwelling mom knows a thing or two about being inspirational.
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While we were at Whistler’s USA House, the film crew ushered this mommy blogger out to the luxurious back deck, which was resplendent with colors and textures of the Rocky Mountains. They draped me in a Cashmere blanket and I cuddled up to the fire, gazing out upon the 5-acre property that doubled as an enchanted snow globe

The 20-minute interview was intended to be used in a promotional piece for when Microsoft Office ’10 is officially launched in June.

A quick synopsis of what I said as I sat in a pampered wonderland, having just talked to Olympic legends and indulged in gourmet food:

“My Olympic experience with Microsoft Office Winter Games Contest does not suck.”

I am nothing if not eloquent.

And pretty darn grateful.

Comedic Tweeting of Short Track, Apolo Ohno and More

Directly uploading my blog posts from Microsoft Office ’10 was the heart of my Olympic experience.

But using the brand spankin’ new HTC HD2 Windows Phone was the artery to communicating my minute-by-minute commentaries. If you haven’t been following me on Twitter (@themilehighmama), you’ve been missing out on my misadventures such as this:

At USA House. Spotted Kristi Yamaguchi and a famous men’s skater. Just not famous enough to know his name.

A few minutes later:

Unidentifiable skater was ’88 gold medalist and legend Brian Boitano. Whoops. I asked for his autograph.

I, of course, told him I was a huge fan.

One of my favorite events was going to see Short Track at the Pacific Coliseum on Thursday evening. I’ve watched the sport with passing interest but after experiencing it live, it is now among my favorites. The spirited crowd is similar to what you’d find when attending a hockey game in Canada.

This is the highest possible compliment I could give.

My tweets from my HTC HD2 that evening say it all:

Short Track fast & unpredictable. Dude in last place came in 2nd due to crash. I might actually have a chance in this sport.

Apolo Ohno up to bat in 1000m. Or would that be up to “track?” OK, that was bad.

JR Celski qualified in 1000m after a great heat. Stoked for my fellow Pollack.

Tipped off about Kristie Moore, 2nd pregnant Olympian in history. Sport: curling. Shocker.

Bummed. My credential won’t get me in the Media Mixed Zone to meet fellow Park City Snowmama Linda. May file for media discrimination.

JR Celski in 5000m relay semi, 1/2 hr after last race. I am hereby tired for them.

Got to admit this is 1st time I’ve watched speed skating relay. There’s a whole lot of butt pushing going on.

Coliseum a mad house. Canada’s Marianne St-Gelais won silver in 500m short track!

As athletes received bouquet at Flower Ceremony, publicist Natalie said “It looks like they’re getting cabbage.” She was right.

And my grand finale tweet?

I’m celebrating Canada’s silver medal by going to the USA House. I confuse myself.

My response to Canada’s crushing loss to the U.S. in hockey

Let’s get something straight: I’m Canadian. I was born in Canada and even though I will likely live in the United States for the rest of my life, I will always retain the citizenship of my homeland.

I married an American.

My children were born in the United States and I lovingly call them my half-breeds.

I am a woman with divided loyalties.

During the Olympics, I happily cheered for the USA.

This is not the case for hockey, where I am a tried and true Canadian to the core.

There was a lot on the line for the Canada vs. United States hockey game on Sunday night. Canada is the gold-medal favorite and was expected to coast into the medal round. The Motherland’s citizens live and breathe hockey and there was oodles of smack-talking leading up to the game.

I should know. My husband and I did it with each other.

Even though Canada outshot the U.S. 45-23, the U.S. emerged as the victors in a 5-3 game. This now means they will have a bye for the quarter-finals while Canada must win a play-in game on Tuesday to reach the quarterfinals.

A gold medal for the Canadian team is still a possibility but this was an unexpected bump in the road.

Following the game, my husband Jamie tried to console me.

“Don’t worry, Amber. It doesn’t really mean anything that Canada lost to the U.S. tonight.”

“It does mean something. It means that I’m mad.”

The 2010 Olympic Zipline: A Lesson in Patience and Insanity

The Olympics have been a test in patience. Want to go to the Olympic Superstore? Expect an hour wait to blow your money on their official products.

Skating at Robson Square

How about the insanely popular Japanese-style Japa Dog? Sinking your teeth into their seaweed and Bratwurst succulence will take you another hour.

Yeah, I don’t understand the appeal for that one, either.

The Robson Square Celebration Site was one of the most popular Olympic destinations in Vancouver. Everything was free and events were in abundance: skating, zipline, the Ignite the Dream pyrotechnic sound and light show, and live music.

Ziptrek Ecotours’ zipline scored the most attention. Perched six stories above Vancouver’s iconic downtown core, eager people would wait as long as nine hours for an exhilarating 15-second ride over Robson Square.

I understand waiting that long about as much as the desire to eat seaweed.

As previously mentioned, I met a generous man who offered to let me do the zipline on my birthday without the long wait. My instructions were to check in at the British Columbia International Media Centre and I would be ushered up a different entrance to the front of a line.

You know, to avoid a riot.

When I arrived, participants were half-frozen after waiting in line for four hours since 6 a.m.

I didn’t bother mentioning I’d just come from my warm ‘n cozy hotel.

I put vanity on the shelf and got outfitted in my harness.

Then again, maybe it’s one of my best Olympic looks.

We climbed several flights of stairs to the launch pad with gorgeous views of Robson Square and the surrounding areas. Suddenly, I got nervous.

I’ve done plenty of ziplines but there is something unnerving about that initial leap, especially when this one required us to walk down four steps without any kind of a railing for support.

I vowed to film my experience and redeem myself from my failed attempt at capturing Bode Miller in the downhill. I accomplished just that.

Well, if you can look past the fact that I filmed part of it sideways.

In my defense, I was a bit preoccupied with not dying.

Soaring over the Square was an absolute thrill and I could see why people waited in line for this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Watch the video here.

Oh, and you know what I jokingly called the crowd standing in line at the end of my video?

When my amazing experience working with Microsoft Office ’10 during the Olympics is over, I’ll be back to being one of them.

Woman on Vancouver’s Streets (With Video)

The official logo of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games is the Inukshuk, a curious stone structure whose origins hail from the Inuit. It is a symbol of leadership, cooperation, friendship and the human spirit.

One evening, Robin, Krista and I rented a town car and we cruised around Vancouver’s hot spots that included Stanley Park, Yaletown, Gastown and Granville Island. As we drove past English Bay, Robin spotted some over-sized Hallowed Red Olympic Mittens on what appeared to be a snowman.

Upon further investigation, we realized what we saw was actually the Inukshuk.

Evidently, Robin’s night vision sucks as much as mine.

My curiosity was piqued. The Inikshuk’s image appears on every single official product of the Games but did people really know what it was all about? I decided to hit the streets of Vancouver to find out.

Basically, this was my way of looking for validation that there were other people out there as clueless as me.

In addition to carrying around a picture of the Inukshuk, we bought the official mascots: Miga (part killer whale, part sea bear), Quatchi (sasquatch with ambitions to be a hockey goalie), Sumi (a spirit animal with body parts from the orca whale, thunderbird and black bear), and Mukmuk (a marmot sidekick).

Could totally happen.

My test sample ranged from young to old.

Translation: I made fun of everyone equally.

((YOUTUBE VIDEO IS NO LONGER AVAILABLE).


Credits: Spazzy interviewer and editor, Me.
Shaky camera operator: Natalie.
Cut us some slack. We’re amateurs.

And yes, Vancouver’s Most Eligible Bachelor did cheat.

Note to self: Remove tags with mascot’s names before performing next test sample.

The Main Press Centre and My Birthday Memorable Celebration

Main Press Centre

One of the major perks of having an Olympic Identity and Accreditation Card (OIAC) is being able to to access Olympic venues and zones.

Having an ace film crew follow you around for four days doesn’t hurt your street cred, either.

The Main Media Centre (MMC) is located within Canada Place and the Vancouver Convention Centre on the city’s downtown waterfront. It houses the Main Press Centre (MPC) and the International Broadcast Centre (IBC).

My accreditation through Microsoft Office ’10 grants me access to the MPC. On Tuesday, I got a tour of the facility from Bob Condron. Bob started as a volunteer and he has served as USOC’s Director of Media Services for 14 Olympics.

The man knows a thing or two about the Games.

Bob had too many responsibilities so didn’t need to smile

The Main Press Center includes a press workroom with approximately 600 numbered workstations with complete live televised coverage of the Games, printed results and associated sport-specific information. It also has press conference rooms, a general store, laundry drop-off, an Olympic store, and a food court.

Basically, it’s just like a huge cruise ship.

But it’s a lot less fun.

Main Press Centre Lobby

Reporting from the Olympics is a big deal and these journalists mean business. Deadlines need to be met and revelries are understandably kept at a minimum.

Main Press Centre

In addition to the tour, I’ve attended some media events and press conferences there. On Thursday, Robin sent me to the MPC with a different assignment to learn the stories of a few journalists. I did better than that: I chatted it up with a cool Aussie and scored an in-demand ticket.

Not bad for a rookie.

I had a great conversation with a journalist from 1160 SEN in Australia who eagerly showed me the intricacies of sending radio reports, told me what Aussies are medal contenders and also where he gets his information (from http://www.olympics.com.au/).

The next man I chatted with was watching nine flat-screen televisions broadcasting various Olympic sports. Overwhelmed, I asked him how he chose which one to watch.

“The answer,” he said, “is always hockey.”

It was a dead giveaway he was from Canada.

As it turns out, he is not a journalist but is the Communications Director of the Public Affairs Bureau for British Columbia and has been assisting VANOC during the Games. At the end of our conversation, he asked me if I had the chance to ride the zipline in Robson Square. This free attraction reportedly has people waiting in line for four hours for a 20-second thrill ride.

Tempting but no.

I told him honestly that I wasn’t willing to wait that long and that is when he offered to hook me up with a quickie zipline ride.

On my birthday.

Today.

If you will recall, at this time last year, I discovered I had lice.

Birthday #38 is already looking up.

Stay tuned for details of my birthday zipline ride! Also, if you haven’t already done it, be sure to go go www.officewintergames.com to download your free Microsoft Office ’10 Beta.

Tutorial on what not to say when meeting Wayne Gretzky

It’s tough to figure out the highlight of my day yesterday.

There was the Russia vs. Slovakia hockey game where Microsoft PR pro Art and I sat right behind the penalty box.

If I look a wee bit tired, I was. I’d been up for 17 hours thanks to my morning stint at the Today show.

I was able to stay awake because we were privy to an intense game and came face-to-face with superstar NHL players like Alexander Ovechkin.


I even caught Slovakia’s winning shoot-out goal in what was a huge upset:


It was my way of redeeming myself after filming an empty ski slope instead of Bode Miller.

The USA House was brimming with superstars today.

Shaun White celebrated his gold medal in the men’s snowboard halfpipe competition.

Then there was cutie pie bronze medalist in the same event, Scotty Lago.


Tony Dungy also dropped by. Not familiar with him? He is a former football player who was the first African-American head coach to win the Super Bowl. He is now a prominent analyst for NBC.


Impressed? Don’t be. Robin tipped me off about him and fed me all this information. Wikipedia did the rest.

Former Olympians were also in abundance like Scott Hamilton.


But there was none greater than The Great One. You may have seen him broadcast to millions as he lit the Olympic cauldron.

I grew up with Wayne Gretzky who spent much of his career playing for the Edmonton Oilers, my beloved Calgary Flames’ rival. He was the superstar we loved to hate, the one who threatened us the most and demanded our respect with every play.

And the man who Robin introduced me to without any warning or preparation on my part.

Did I tell The Great One I still remember when the Oilers beat the Islanders to win the Stanley Cup, their first of five in seven years?

Of course not.

I instead blurted out, “I have to confess to you I’m a Calgary Flames fan.”

He was taken aback at first but in a forgiving tone, he proclaimed, “That’s OK.”


There’s a reason he’s called The Great One.

Be sure to check out athletes’ bios and the latest Olympic news at www.usocpressbox.org.