Category Archives: Personally Mine

Life During COVID-19: One Month Later

Physical Distancing

Until the number of new cases drops considerably, physical distancing is the new norm.

COVID-19 still affects our daily lives. However some may not have the same effects they had like say just a month ago. Some things are starting to open up more, but some still remain closed. Even those that have opened up have set restrictions and limits. I will highlight in this blog how much has changed since my first COVID-19 blog.

Reopenings, But With Restrictions

I don’t know how soon we’ll ever get back to normal; the ‘normal’ we had before this pandemic hit. One thing I know is it won’t be anytime soon. Keep in mind that reopening of indoor things and places will be done in phases. I’m sure phases will be based on the maximum capacity allowable with the given square-footage. Statistics of new COVID infections and active infections will also play a factor geographically.

Restaurants are starting to open up more. Even during the worst of the pandemic, restaurants that could offer delivery service still functioned. There were even two walk-in places — a local fast-food place and a Domino’s Pizza outlet — that were open for people to walk in and order. Both times I placed my order, I was told to stand outside to wait for my food to be ready. I didn’t mind because this is a pandemic. However lately restaurants have started to allow people to dine at, if not dine in. When I mean ‘dine at,’ I mean the patio areas of restaurants are set up and open for customers to dine. Outdoors has a way-lower rate of contagion. The restaurants that could allow dining inside had to have a big capacity and I’m sure they had to limit the number of dine-in patrons.

Most stores that were open from mid-March to the end of May did so with the number of people in at one time. However there were some popular stores in Canada that were closed completely during Phase One of the pandemic like Best Buy, Winners and Ikea. Winners reopened, but there was a maximum number of people allowed for a long time. I remember on the day of reopening, I had to stand in a lengthy line and it took fifteen minutes. The maximum allowable was 75 at once.

Ikea Lineup

I had to wait 30 minutes in line to get into an Ikea.

When Ikea reopened at the beginning of June, it came at the right time as I was planning to put up new curtains. I went on a Sunday 14 days after it reopened to purchase a curtain rod. When I arrived at 4pm, there were gates to mark the line-up where people could stand in line and where to be separate. It wasn’t just on one side. They had that line-up but the opposite side too. That was annoying since the line I was in was lengthy enough. Funny thing is there’s a third line-up area if the line-up gets even longer! Anyways theirs was a situation where there was a maximum and they could only let in ten at a time just after ten were seen exiting. That left me waiting in line for around thirty minutes! Also don’t ask about the returns line-up. I had to wait an hour to return something small!

Medical offices started to reopen at the beginning of June. The only medical office I could enter during the big closings was the blood clinic for donation. Even then, they had to limit the number of donors at once and it was strictly by appointment. Booking appointments were hard as availability could be anywhere from one day three weeks from now to the other option which would be two weeks later. Once I was able to donate, they still had to take my temperature from a distance and have me wear a face mask.

At least they allowed me in. When I had a really painful ordeal with gout in May, I didn’t walk to the drop-in clinic 300m away. I limped there! Only to learn the doors are locked and can only take over the phone. Even when I called, they still had to book an appointment with the drop-in doctor for me and they had to call me at that time. That’s the way it was with a lot of doctors’ offices during Phase One of the pandemic. It had to be either strictly phone appointments or they had to use their smartphone to send images or videotapes of the problem. Mine was strictly a phone call with the doctor. She did forward the prescription to the pharmacy. You can imagine my relief once I got the pills!

They may be a day late and strictly phone only, but it was way timelier than my dental ordeal. My tooth broke in the middle of May. I called up the emergency line and left a message. The dentist then called back and said they can’t work on it until the dental offices open up again. They didn’t open until June 1st. The problem was annoying because the tooth would scrape against my tongue. It was that annoying. You can imagine how relieved I was for my appointment. But even then, I was warned that there was the chance of catching COVID. I had four questions to answer before I could be done. All had to be the No answer. I also had to get my temperature checked from a distance. Then I could get my tooth done.

Reopening With Regulations

Church questionairre

To be among the maximum 50 to attend service at my church, you need to let the priest know and answer a questionnaire before you can enter.

Some places have reopened with set limits. Firstly churches are limited in terms of capacity. My own church has two services on Sunday. Anyone who wants to attend has to let the priest know by the day before because there is a maximum of 50 people allowed in the church building and parking lot at one time. Even after you let them know and he says it’s good to come in, there’s still four yes/no questions to answer about your health. Only if you answer no to all four are you fine to enter the church for mass. For those that can’t attend mass, they can view it on the Facebook page or the YouTube channel just like we all did at the start of the pandemic. In addition, the summer used to be a case where there would be a single mass in both languages. Possibly because of the pandemic and to keep as many people from being left out, the two separate masses in English and Ukrainian will continue.

COVID hair

My COVID hair: four months in the making!

Secondly, it’s not just churches that are reopening with regulations. Barbershops and hair salons reopened at the start of June too. Yeah, we’ve all heard the term ‘COVID hair’ or ‘Corona hair.’ That’s what happens when the hair salons all close. You either have one of your family members cut your hair (One you can trust, I hope!) or you wait. I waited and boy was my hair long and hard to control. After the long wait, I finally got my hair cut in the second Friday of June.

The barbershop I often go to reopened. A lot changed. The barber wears a face mask, clients have to wear a face mask too, and he has to clean and sanitize the seats after every person he works on. On top of it, the price is raised an extra $5 to deal with the new methods of sanitizing.

Barber

To get my hair cut, my barber demands you wear a face mask, like most hair salons demand now.

I have no problem with paying the extra money. I was sensing there would be something like this. The news weeks earlier talked about reopening but charging a ‘COVID tax.’

Libraries closed during the pandemic. I remember well because I was to attend an info session on cryptocurrency in the middle of March. The session was cancelled because the library had to close. Any books to be taken out or viewed had to be online books. Libraries reopened during the last week of May, but it was limited to book pick-up at the entrance. I went to pay an overdue fine but they are not taking it right now. I’m sure even if the library building does open to the public again, there will be a limit on the number of people who can enter and it will be months before the internet computers for public use will be allowed to be used again.

Open But Still Closed Enough

White Rock beach

On my last visit to White Rock beach, not as many people on the beach in many areas.

Over time, playgrounds would slowly start to open up for children to play. Swings, spinning wheels and slides are now back and active again. Many natural tourist attractions and natural parks have been reopened. However there are still some closures. I noticed when I went to White Rock a month ago. White Rock is known for having a long beach and many walk-in food huts mostly for ice cream and fish and ships. It also has a lot of dine-in restaurants. At that time, most dine-in places weren’t open. I don’t think many could allow for dining in with that little of space. The small huts for ice cream and fish and chips were good, but there had to be distances in the line-ups. I was able to get an ice cream. For parking, half of the lots were closed off. For beach access, most of the walk-on access was gated and there were limited ways to enter for most of the beach. Also the White Rock Pier was completely closed off due to the pandemic. It’s a narrow pier of eight feet of distance so you can understand.

White Rock Pier

The White Rock Pier is closed off because of the pandemic.

You remember how in my original COVID blog I talked about cancellations of events? That’s the same thing with July 1st which is Canada Day. Usually there would be parties and picnics and fireworks blown off. This was not the case this year. Instead there were ‘virtual’ Canada Day events for people to do online. There were fireworks shows but they all had to be livestreamed. If there were any fireworks shows for us to visit, they would have to be private. Also any Canada Day picnics would have to be private get-togethers. What can I say? When a pandemic happens, that’s all you can do.

My Own Daily Life

As many of you know, I was put on a leave of absence from my job back in April. It will end this Monday. That makes it a good three months in which I’ve been away from my job. During the time, I’ve kept in contact with my supervisor from my job. She likes to keep in touch. We had two socially-distant get-togethers. I had occasional get-togethers with my cousin. We had to be distant each time. I also had coffee with another cousin. Each time we all had to sit eight feet away. Getting together is possible as long as you’re distant.

A lot of places I like to go to, like libraries and dine-in restaurants, have mostly been closed or delivery only. I only dined out at one place: on Canada Day. Even with dining allowed in the patio, there were chair placements and table separations due to COVID restrictions including the maximum of two at a table. There were also restrictions in the indoor dining room. Whenever I go shopping or for any other errand, I still wear my gloves. Wearing a mask depends on the situation. If it’s a crowded place or there’s a noticeably big amount of people, of course I’ll put it on.

Buses started resuming regular service on June 1st and back to fare paid. I remember going on a bus trip from Surrey to White Rock. It wasn’t packed to standing room only, but all the seats filled up. This was one of those cases I’d put on my face mask. Especially since there was a shady-looking man who sat near me and made a phone call about drugs. I was hoping he’d get off the bus soon. I did get off five minutes after he did. Nevertheless, it becomes nervous when a person with a shady personality is close to you. I’ve seen some shady types who appear like they don’t care if there’s a pandemic or not.

Looking Ahead

Re-openings and lifting of restrictions happen in phases, and the phases are reliant on statistics. I’m sure no matter where you are in the world you are, the COVID-related restrictions that have happened relate to the deceleration of the frequency of new COVID cases and decline of active cases and will continue to do so as numbers change. There are some places where because of the numbers not being reduced, COVID restrictions remain unchanged. There are even some places like Brazil that have just recently experienced their own COVID ordeal.

Canada is lucky that the numbers of new COVID cases are declining. We did have some increases over the past week, but they are not as big as the new-case statistics of April and May. There were provinces that were hit hard and still have an impact. In BC and Manitoba where my parents live, the COVID cases were not the hugest of impact and experienced excellent rates of decline. That allowed for better phased openings.

I know I talked about being away from my job. During that time, I made some good use out of it. Actually I was lazy the first week. I felt I owed it to myself for working a lot of hours in my life. Just to wake up without an alarm and do whatever I want for a full week. I didn’t sleep in as much as I hoped. It’s hard to sleep in a place with no air conditioning. Nevertheless during the time, I used it as chances to visit as many outdoor places I’ve never seen before or outdoor places I enjoy going to. It worked out great. I added some new photos on Google Maps.

When people are laid off from their jobs during the pandemic, people do a lot of various things with their time. Some did baking, some spent more time with their family, some even resorted to indoor workouts. I did a wide variety of things. Online, I did some teleconferencing with people from a home business I recently took an interested in. I will be taking an online course on mutual funds in two weeks. I was ‘late to the ball’ for other teleconferencing. I received emails from ARMA (Association of Records Management and Administration) about info sessions on Zoom. I only started seeing them in June. Basically the biggest thing I did was apartment repairs. Over the years I left a lot undone. With all this free time, I finally had the chance to do it. I accomplished a lot. Of course there’s more I’d like to do, but I’ll see if I still have the drive, and the money to buy the stuff.

As for entertainment, you could tell with so many cancellations, television and YouTube replayed a lot of classic events. The NFL channel did a lot of virtual games, NBA replayed a lot of great moments and did stats, UEFA did a lot of ‘virtual’ Euro games, and FIFA has #WorldCupAtHome where they replay a lot of great past World Cup games. Right now is World Cup 1990. Even entertainment channels are replaying a lot of past shows. The Eurovision channel has #EurovisionAgain where they replay a Grand Final of the past, get people to vote for their favorites, and have a charity at the end to donate to. All of which remind you if you’re confined inside, you don’t have to compromise fun. Also during this time I’ve become a big fan of the show Ridiculousness. It’s become my new ‘guilty pleasure’ show!

The good news is my leave of absence will end as of Monday. Work at my full-time place has slowly but surely become busier and busier over time. I look forward to starting again. My work computer has been sitting in a box for three months! They say laziness is addictive. I hope that doesn’t happen to me. I hope I can readjust fine. I’m sure it will start as mostly working at home with the possible odd day or two working from the office. I’m sure any place that does have office work will have to have a lot of restrictions and precautions to protect people or they will be fined. Inaddition, I was told that I will be having some new duties to take care of. I’m willing to change or learn new duties, as long as I learn at a pace I can handle. Also you remember I told you about the CERB payments in my last blog? I received two such payments. I’m glad I don’t have to apply for more. Actually if you apply for CERB and you are actively involved, you can be charged criminally. I was reminded right when I applied for my first of the conditions required to eligible and that making a false claim can be subject to criminal penalty. I also heard from one person that with CERB, you will have to pay 20% of it back come next tax time. I have the money in savings set aside in case.

Winners shelves

One clothing mega-store is half-full of merchandise. Shortages will be common for months due to the lack of shipped goods.

At least I’m working again. If there’s one thing this pandemic has taught me, it’s that there’s no guarantee of work back. The pandemic has left a lot of uncertainty behind. A lot of small businesses and a lot of big businesses have had to either file bankruptcy or also completely close. Many have reopened, but it’s a question about how hard did the pandemic hit their business? Will they be able to continue? We’ve seen ads encouraging people to support small businesses. I have mostly shopped at small businesses that I’m familiar with. I hope they stay strong. Even big businesses will have problems as they may get less shipments of items customers demand. I recently went to a major clothing store near where I lived. The aisles and racks are normally loaded, but they weren’t that time. I talked with one of the cashiers and she said that incoming merchandise is less frequent. It used to be daily but not anymore. Something like furniture to sell comes in every week or two. I’m sure that business isn’t the only big business experiencing this. This economic recovery won’t be easy. I think every nation got hit hard.

Cancellation of events still continue, even locally. The fireworks festival of Celebration Of Light that’s held in late-July is cancelled. The Concours d’Elegance classic car show I like to see just before Labor Day is cancelled for the year. My retreat to Palm Springs in August is cancelled. Makes sense because of big-time travel restrictions. The Vancouver Film Festival, or VIFF, will continue but it will be completely virtual with the films they will be showing. I’m going to miss volunteering this year, but I will support the online VIFF.

Since I’m talking about VIFF, there’s a lot of talk about the arts suffering because of the pandemic. It’s easy to see with a lot of planned shows being cancelled and a lot of schools or training centres having to rehearse or work online. That’s become the new norm. Even the choir I sing for had to cancel out its show for June. We did rehearsals via Zoom every Wednesday evening starting in March in hopes of doing a show. When it became obvious a show wouldn’t be possible, our rehearsals became sing-alongs with our favorite songs over the years. My situation with the choir may be minor compared to the more organized arts companies, but this pandemic has the arts communities calling out for help in keeping things alive and active for the future. I don’t think the arts will completely die. I’m sure the arts have taken worse hits in history and have still triumphed. Nevertheless, it will be a fight for the future.

Also there’s talk from health professionals and medical board leaders that there is a big possibility of a Second Wave of COVID that could come in the fall and it could be worse. I hope not with all the prevention we’ve been doing. That will really cause a lot of financial damage that would definitely be irreparable. There’s already a lot of crazy things happening right now. Like just this week as the US saw a steady drop in new COVID cases for the past weeks, there’s now a sudden jump in cases that have reached record highs! Times like these make me glad my Palm Springs retreat was cancelled. Also airlines in Canada and the US have resumed more of their regular business and are accepting up to capacity. I just hope they have regulations like all wearing a mask and the right air filtering on board.

That’s all I have to say for my COVID update for now. There’s a mix of things that either look optimistic or look pessimistic or fearful. Only time will tell what happens as far as how the pandemic goes and its impact on the economy and people’s own lives. Me, I just want them to find a cure and a vaccine fast. Enough is enough!

Life During COVID-19

Vancouver Sunday 1

When COVID-19 hit the outside world, everything ground to a halt. This is what Downtown Vancouver looked like on a Sunday in April.

I’m sure the COVID-19 virus, or as most would call the ‘Corona Virus,’ has changed your life to one almost unrecognizable to the way it was when March started. I know mine has had a lot of changes. However it’s a crazy time we’re living in now. Not as crazy as it was in March or April, but still crazy enough and showing no signs of immediate relief. A virus that seemed to exist in a city half a world away has now infected six million people worldwide. Here’s what I noticed over the time.

I know this will be the wordiest blog I’ve ever written, but I have to get all this off my chest.

The Pandemic Looming

The news of COVID-19 was catching our eyes as far back as February. It made brief news in January, but the news in February was about a pandemic in the Wuhan province of China that was looming. There was the fear that it might be carried to the outside world. Eventually it did hit the outside world and we’re now still fighting it!

News had already hit Canada of our first cases. Our first death happened in the second week of March and it was a 78 year-old in a Richmond hospital. It was evident that our lives would soon change. That would become the case the following week. It was then when things like social distancing, working remotely and the closure or limit of non-essential services. I even remember the last time I ate out. It was a get-together of former employees of my job at a pub just a ten-minute walk away. It was on March 14th and pretty much the last weekend where people could meet inside a restaurant. Then everything changed the following week.

This was a concern for me. For a long time, I’ve compared to COVID to other pandemics or epidemics of the past like the Spanish Flu or the Bubonic Plague or the Plague of Justinian. When we had our social restrictions– actually there are still regulations in BC as I speak– I often wondered “Did they handle it the same way back during influenza?”

Cancellations, Cancellations, Cancellations

To the disappointment of almost everyone, it appears every event worldwide had to be cancelled because of the pandemic. At that dinner with former co-workers, I remember the pub had their television on one sports channel and one golf channel. The news of first the NBA cancelling the rest of their season and then the news of the NHL cancelling the rest of their season sent a message about how serious this problem is. Even the golf channel talked of PGA and LPGA events that were cancelled. Interesting how nowadays, the sports channels have been replaying past sports events. That has been successful in lifting the mood of things, to an extent.

More cancellations were on the way. The Eurovision Song Contest was cancelled, the Euro 2020 football event had to be postponed for the following year. Pressure became a case that the Tokyo Olympics that were slated this summer were also postponed until 2021. Cancellations are also happening locally too. In Greater Vancouver, events like the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival in June, the Celebration Of Light in July and the Pacific National Exhibition for around Labor Day had to cancel out as there’s no certainty the pandemic would end around their times. Winnipeg’s Folklorama had to cancel out their festival for August completely. It’s a pain and a headache, but it’s best to do so as right now no relief is currently guaranteed for their times.

Occupational Shock

I’ll bet there may be just 10% of the world where COVID-19 has not changed their job situation one bit this whole time. They must be few and far between or just plain hermits. If you haven’t lost your own business, or lost your job because of a temporary layoff, then your work setting will definitely have changed.

How many of you have had to move your desks from your office to you own home? How many of you still working use Zoom to communicate with your meetings? If you work for a small restaurant or even a big franchise, has it shut down or is it now just strictly pick-up or delivery? That’s what the normal has been under this time.

As for me, I was informed through my job that I would have to work from home. We would have to have all our computers set up with the right VPNs and the right communicative software to work from home. I remember my supervisor drove me in the afternoon to my home with all my computer equipment in a box. It was a unique three-week experience using all the software. The most I’ll say about my job is that I work for a financial agency that works on behalf of various clients. One thing is that the work slowed down because of restrictions placed in dealing with customers. We all noticed the work getting less and less as the Inbox had little work to do. Eventually I received the call I was placed on a Leave Of Absense. My banked vacation time had to be paid out before I could go into the unpaid part four weeks later. As of now, I’m still waiting for the call back to work. I’m not expecting things to resume once clients want us working for them again.

Right now I’m not too worried about my job. My work computer has been shut down and I have it sitting in a box. I still have my work badge. I also still have my medical and dental happening. Also, I don’t know if your country gives out emergency benefits during a State Of Emergency, but Canada has a wide variety of assistance programs implemented during this time. I applied for the CERB (Canada Emergency Response Benefit) which is a monthly income supplement for people that have been either laid off or receiving less than $1000 in a month’s period. Currently that’s my income. We’ll see what time holds.

Social Distancing: You’re Lucky To Get Around

shoppers spacing

In March, lines were made with tape and paper for markers.

You hear it all the time nowadays: lines like ‘Stay Home’ or ‘Stay two metres apart.’ To think at the beginning of the 2020, there was no such term as ‘Social Distancing.’ However that’s one of the things about this outbreak. Most of us never had to wear a surgical mask in public. That all changed when health officials made speeches recommending us to wear them.

Businesses sure changed. I mentioned about my time in the pub. That was the last dine-in weekend. Now restaurants have either closed completely or they make it strictly pick-up or a delivery service like Skip The Dishes. Fast food or coffee chains like McDonald’s or Starbucks have closed their restaurants and only allowed for drive-thru pick up. Few stores were open, except for those with essential services. Grocery stores and pharmacies were open. Furniture stores or clothing stores were not. Hair salons were closed off completely. Drop-in doctors offices were closed and they could only be a case where the doctor phones you. In some cases, you would have to send a video of your condition or ailment to your doctor. I know I had to do an appointment over the phone when I had a case of gout in my foot and it was too painful to walk.

bus seat

To keep buses at half-capacity and passengers distant, signs like these were put on seats to prevent sitting.

Also how many of you go into a store and see lines or marks on the floor requesting you to stand 6 1/2 feet or 2 metres apart? I saw that in stores right in the middle of March just shortly when my work-at-home situation started. Even some entrances placed limits on the number of people who can be inside a store and had markers outside signaling where in line to stand. I’m sure there are some buildings that would demand you wear a mask to enter, like hospitals I’m sure.

Bus transportation is still there, but it has limited capacity. For two weeks, I would not get on a bus until I was invited by a family member to visit them. I was nervous when I got on. I didn’t have a face mask so I used my scarf if I had to. Plus I would almost always go outside wearing leather gloves. Buses in Greater Vancouver are free until June 1st. Skytrains and Seabuses are still fare paid. The buses would only allow for entry on the side door and were half-capacity to limit the number of people riding and the space in between them. There were even markers on the chairs which were not to have people sit upon. Skytrains and Seabuses did not have the same signs on seats to limit people, but the capacities were smaller than usual.

Playtime Is Over

The crazy thing about all these social distancing measures imposed by civic, regional or even federal laws is that they kept on getting stricter and stricter as the numbers got bigger and bigger. That’s the nature when a ‘state of emergency’ is declared. I remember leading to the end of the second week of March, the law was that places should have no more than 250 people gathering in one place. Then it became a case of no more than 50 people in one place. It’s not as severe as some places that demanded lockdowns or even a limit of 10 people in one place, but it was still crazy enough to put a limit on things.

I also remember when I went for mass at a Ukrainian church that weekend, the priest gave the option to use a disposable wooden spoon to put into the mouths of people. He was willing to use the common metal spoon used for everyone, but their mouths had to be opened wide. Also at the Roman church that Sunday’s evening, the church was half-filled with people sitting far apart from each other. That was the same in the Ukrainian church with only immediates sitting close to each other. Since then, churches have limited their services to online services. That was the case even during Easter. I know because I’ve watched many a mass online.

closed playground

Caution tapes on a park swing sets is a familiar site during this pandemic.

However the biggest area you’ll notice it most is in parks and playgrounds. Ever since the pandemic, swing sets, spinning wheels, monkey bars and sandboxes have been closed off. If anyone is to be in a park, they are to do it in the natural areas or on one of the benches. The pandemic was that much of a threat. Even now the swing sets are showing no signs of reopening.

Shopping: All You Can Hoard

It never fails. A pandemic or a problem happens, and then people flood to grocery stores to hoard all that they can. I got my first experience of this type while living on my own not during a pandemic or outbreak, but of a water crisis. Many years ago, Greater Vancouver had a problem with E-coli in the drinking water. People had to boil their water for some time or buy bottled water. You can imagine people would rush to stores to hoard bottled water during that period.

store hoarding

This is all the paper products that was left at a grocery store Monday March 16th.

Now we have the COVID-19 outbreak. As a result, a lot of stores have had their shelves ransacked for various items. The biggest of which was three to four weeks ago. There was the hoarding of drinking water, of pasta, or rice and of meat. However the hoarding that got the most notice was toilet paper. People rushed in to hoard toilet paper more than any other item during that period. The hoarding of three to four weeks ago got so bad, stores posted signs that said ‘Limit 1 (or 2) per Customer.’ Even then, that was still not enough to prevent the hoarding. I remember going into a pharmacy looking for paper towels two weeks ago. Even a set of two rolls of ‘PT’ was enough for me. When I got there, the store had the ‘Limit 1 per customer’ sign, but a two-pack of paper towels was the only paper product on the shelf! That’s right! All the toilet paper and facial tissue were sold out and this two-pack of paper towels was all that was left. Talk about lucking out!

Now things are a far cry from the hoarding. Toilet paper have found their way back on the shelves, but they still go quite fast as well as paper towels. Cleaning products are one item that aren’t necessarily hoarded as much as they were in March but they still go faster than they did before. Leave it to a pandemic to change everything!

Attention To The Statistics

worldometers shot

Paying attention to the daily statistics changes at Worldometers is a daily habit of mine.

It’s a question whether paying attention to the daily COVID-19 statistics is a smart idea or not. It could be smart because you need to know where you’re area stands in terms of probability of infection. It could not be smart because it can promote fear and panic. As if this pandemic hasn’t caused enough fear and panic already!

It first started with the live facts on YouTube back in the middle of March. I came across a live video from NAV MED VIDEOS which features live videos of COVID-19 statistics that were constantly updated once each nation released more facts. The NAV MED VIDEOS live video is still live and is still active in updating. However over time, I switched to the Worldometers site. I find a site with the stats more convenient than a Youtube video. Worldometers also gives constant updates about the latest statistics and the latest numbers. They’re also still active. They do a good job of updating the stats for Canada, but I don’t like how they don’t break it down province-by-province the same way they break it down for the US state-by-state.

The biggest reason why I pay attention to the statistics is to get a good sense on how soon things will get back to normal and how soon the numbers will go down. Another reason is also to see just how big of a threat the virus would be. Numbers of cases per population is very telling. I admit the numbers during March and April looked very distressing. However the number of new cases reported on a daily basis have showed an unsteady but sure decline. If there’s one positive thing to say about the overall statistics, it’s that there are more cases of people fully recovered than active cases. Another positive thing is in terms of closed cases, we have an 87% survival rate. Nevertheless we can’t be sitting pretty yet. Actually there’s no such thing as ‘sitting pretty’ as far as COVID statistics go. In fact right now, Canada ranks 11th overall in terms of total number of deaths. All of us have to wait for numbers of active cases and new cases to get lower to resume more activities we used to do.

COVID In My Dreams

Now this is something totally crazy, but it should be seen as eventual. You know a pandemic or an outbreak is a part of your life when it’s in your dreams at night. It happened to me twice during the third week of March:

  • During the evening of Monday that week leading into the morning of Tuesday (St. Patrick’s Day), I dreamt I was traveling by automobile through various areas of the city of Vancouver. I then found myself about to enter a library in a new building in South Vancouver. When I enter the library, I found it very hard to breathe; almost impossible to inhale. I think I struggled in taking three breaths. Then my alarm clock went off. I woke up and I was breathing normally. You can imagine my relief! Looking back, I don’t think it was exactly a dream about me having COVID-19 exactly, but shortness of breath is a COVID symptom.
  • The evening of the Friday that week leading into the morning of the Saturday, I dreamt I was going to a community college of various buildings and floors. The whole time, I attempt to practice social distancing despite having to move fast from place to place. I’m by the elevator of the second floor of some building. The door opens up and a young woman comes to me in a hostile manner: “You! You bumped me! You jerk! Don’t you know it’s dangerous? You could’ve infected me!” You can imagine my relief when I woke up.

I haven’t had any other memorable dreams of COVID-19 since then, but it’s interesting how an outbreak can be part of your dreams so soon.

Those Risking Themselves

For the first 2 1/2 months, almost everything was closed down or in limited function. The biggest business that did not see business decline with the pandemic is the health system. Now more than ever, nations need health officials and hospitals functioning like never before. The problem is it’s extremely tiring for health officials and nurses constantly tending to patients. I’ve heard of hospitals reserving a single floor as a COVID ward. Those nurses would be working the most hours, be under the most stress and would be under the most threat to catch the virus themselves.

Nurses aren’t the only ones who face threats of COVID on the job. Despite seating restrictions on public transit, bus drivers also face threats of contagion. That was especially highlighted in April when Detroit bus driver Jason Hargrove died of COVID. Just a week and a half before his death, the 50 year-old Hargrove posted a video where he talks of the difficulties doing his job during this pandemic. He even talked of a female passenger coughing without covering her mouth. I was upset with his death but I was most shocked to hear of a full-grown adult not covering their mouth when they cough.

Grocery stores, pharmacies and convenience stores still operated during the pandemic, but they had to take precautions and limit their hours. Cashiers would have to work behind a plastic protector or wear a see-through visor to protect themselves. They would only handle cash if they wear gloves. If you have a credit card, you had to run it through yourself with no putting it through any plastic. Some places won’t even allow paper or coin money for fear of contagion. Also at convenience stores and gas bars, no more self-serve coffee. The cashier does it for you. That’s what happens when a contagious disease hits.

The COVIDiocy Of COVIDiots

I don’t know what you’ve been doing for precautions. As for me, I’ve been doing my utmost. I think it was the dreams I had that most did it to me. Or it could be because I know a COVID test involves inserting a cotton swab far into your nasal passage. I sure as hell don’t want something like that! That explains why I’ve been doing my best to keep 2 metres apart. When I meet up with people, I keep the space standard of 2 metres. I try to be preventative instead of afraid. I take my vitamins as I normally do, I still go out shopping, I still jog down the sidewalks of Burnaby and New Westminster, but I make sure I’m a good distance away from others each time. Plus I still wear my leather gloves when I’m outdoors.

I will admit I do get nervous especially if I’m in a crowded area with a lot of people. I’ve seen it many a times. I see groups of people at a beach or park. Whenever I see that, I think ‘I hope they all live together in the same house.’ I also still see people either crowding or too close to each other at bus stops, I see some grocery stores with too many people inside. Whenever I’m in such a place, I make sure I get away from it as soon as I can as well as avoid close contact to others. Even when a single person goes in the same direction I’m going in an indoor place, it makes me nervous. I impulsively think they have disregard to social distancing measures and I feel like saying to them: “What the hell is wrong with you?” I don’t say it to them, but I’m tempted to.

And then there are those that are either careless, ignorant, or defiantly rebellious. Those are the subject of the new word created for 2020: COVIDiot! Some of the most noteworthy is young people. Now don’t think I’m knocking this generation of young people; the belief of ‘Live fast, die young, leave a pretty memory’ has transcended generation after generation. However the constant belief of being young and invincible doesn’t even change during a pandemic. We see it as groups of young adult crowd close together at a beach or public place. Just two weeks ago, I saw a group of twelve teens meet together outside my apartment building door. Only two live inside any of the apartments.

However the biggest news of the ignorance of COVIDiocy has to be during March when spring break in Florida still continued and beaches were still crowded. Further firestorm came when one of the partiers said in a news interview: “If I get corona, I get corona. At the end of the day, it won’t stop me from partying.” The news stories also showed how the reporter was talking to the partiers about the possibility of contagion. The young man said “Well, let us handle it in our own way.” I know young people don’t want to stop partying, but a pandemic should make one think twice.

And COVIDiots include the pundits, the fringe media and conspiracy theorists. They’re a class of COVIDiocy of their own. They include American religious ministers who say this pandemic is God punishing America for tolerating abortion and same-sex marriage. Please, COVID is a virus! Not a punishment! There are even people that are denying COVID exists and that it’s all a conspiracy to hoard rights. Alex Jones must be desperate for a crowd. It’s sick he brings his own children to the rally and hugs supporters. Besides, some that claimed it to be a hoax have made themselves sick of COVID, and some even died. There are those that stormed state halls to protest the social restrictions, claiming it’s unconstitutional. There are a lot of right-wing types that believe that state and federal laws protecting from a health hazard is a threat to constitutional rights. And finally there are religious ministers who violate state regulations on indoor gatherings and open their doors to their churches. Some number to over 1000 and there’s no social distancing at all. I take it they forgot the scripture “Thou shall not put the Lord God to the test.”

First Signs Of Relief

This past month of May, we’ve been seeing the statistics of new contagion go down steadily. The daily statistics are still high enough to keep certain restrictions active, but allow some restrictions to loosened. This week, churches will reopen, but to a maximum capacity of 50. Transit will resume to regular fare paid, but with seating restrictions still implemented. Hair salons are reopening, but some will charge a COVID tax and all will demand their clients wear a mask. Some non-essential stores like Winners opened last week, but with limitations on how many can enter. The number of people allowed depends on the square footage of the store. Dental offices will reopen starting June 1st. That’s beneficial for me because I have a cracked tooth and I will get it fixed on Friday the 5th.

Reopenings are not immediate. In a pandemic, they have to be gradual. I’ll admit it has been annoying having such a limit of places to go to and waiting outside. I’ll admit it’s annoying not being able to have a haircut. I even dream of the day I can return to dining in at a restaurant. However I will gladly comply as this is about preventing a pandemic from reaching devastating numbers at home.

Despite all the chaos and bad news that has happened, there has been a lot of good during this pandemic. People and companies have become more charitable and groups have supplied food donations to others. There have been nations during frightening contagion rates put under lockdowns or confinements to their homes and buildings. The confined responded by singing from their balconies or even doing aerobic classes to other tenants across to the other apartment. The human spirit won’t die!  There’s also a greater appreciation for nurses and health professionals. They, more than anyone else, have the hardest duty of fighting the pandemic up front with the patients they see. They have to work longer hours and under harsher conditions. Here in Canada, we have a habit of thanking them every evening at 7pm when we go out and bang the drum or clank the pots. We want them to know how thankful we are for them. I’m sure there are other salutes of ‘thank you’ done differently around the world.

So for my concluding paragraph, I just have to say the COVID-19 pandemic continues. It shows signs of waning down, but reopening things will be a slow steady process. Despite things not being as bad or as fearful as it was in March, it’s still something worth taking seriously. We may not have the same big numbers of daily new cases, but the new case rates are still worth taking seriously. Plus it’s only now they’re testing out possible cures or vaccines for COVID-19. It’s frustrating trying to protect yourself. It’s also frustrating for the doctors, nurses and hospitals too. It’s most frustrating for those with the COVID-19 and their families. Nevertheless it’s important to stay strong right now. The statistics of COVID-19 have been ugly and are still worth keeping an eye out for, but we should remember all this is to protect ourselves until a cure and a vaccine is found. We also shouldn’t forget that the human race has been through worse. There was the Influenza epidemic of 1918 to 1919 that killed around 100 million. There have been smallpox epidemics many times in history including one in Japan in the 8th Century that killed 1/3 of the nation’s population. There were Cholera pandemics in Asia in the 19th Century that killed millions of people. There’s especially the Bubonic Plague or Black Death in 14th Century Europe that killed 1/3 of the continent. Or even the Plague of Justinian that ended the Roman Empire.

We all have to stay strong and be as preventative as we can. We have the chance to prevent COVID-19 from claiming even its FIRST million lives. There have been excellent efforts of people doing their parts and there have been people acting careless with a false sense of invincibility. We should all work to make this pandemic a thing of the past. When they stay at home and you live in a high-risk area, you stay at home! All I can say right now is whatever the situation is in your home country right now, stay cautious and continue to protect yourself.

My World Cup Experience: Game Day

Yep, I had my ticket ready!

Yep, I had my ticket ready!

Normally you’d expect me to make quarterfinal predictions today. I made my quarterfinal predictions same time as my Round of 16 predictions. Actually I made a recent edit on my quarterfinal predictions since I got two wrong. Check the edits here. In the meantime I’ll tell you all about my experience seeing a Women’s World Cup game. It was Sunday, June 21st–Father’s Day in North America– and I was to see the Canada vs. Switzerland game live at BC Place.

This day was three weeks in the waiting for me. I bought the ticket during the Trophy Tour with the hopes that Canada would be the team to play. It seemed right. The berth was to go to the team that finished atop Group A and Canada looked like it had excellent chances. However I know there are no guarantees in sport. When I bought the ticket, I had the attitude that if Canada doesn’t play this, I’d still see it as this is a once-in-a-lifetime event. I paid very close attention to how Canada was playing here. Yes, I was nervous after the draws but Canada did top their group and did become the team I wanted to see.

It was also a chore to see who Canada’s rival was. I knew it would be the third-place team from either Groups C, D or E. Wikipedia explained the match allotment for the third-place teams. Over time it was decided it would be Switzerland. I was confident Canada would win this. I heard two different sides of things as far as stats go. One was from Wikipedia; Canada has played Switzerland five times and won four. Another was from FIFA.com; Canada never played Switzerland before. What’s up with that?

I got off at the Stadium Skytrain station 45 minutes before the start of the game. Just as I was walking up Beatty St. to the stadium, you could tell the crowds were getting bigger. The streets had banners of the WWC. BC Place had decorated their walls with the WWC images. By the time I arrived at the main entrance at Gate A, there was already a load of people trying to get in. Of course there were a lot of Canadian flags and people with their faces all painted. The most I wore that day was a Canada shirt that said ‘Strong And Free.’ Yeah, I kept my fanfare conservative.

Despite the long lineups there, I tried making my way to Gate F as my ticket said ‘Enter Gate F.’ I made it past the lineups at Gate H and Gate G but saw any access to Gate F blocked off. Fortunately I saw someone in the lineup of Gate G who said they also had the same instruction as mine did. I took Gate G instead. Security wasn’t too much of an issue. They did have to check bags. It was a typical routine stadium check. It’s not like the Olympics where entering the event is like going through an airport.

Once inside BC Place, I wanted to do some looking around and see what they had up for the World Cup. Not too much except they did have WWC images in the walls and they had the WWC take over the stadium confectioneries charging their own prices which were way higher than during any Lions game. This was the first time I had to spend over $5 on a pretzel. I didn’t even have to spend that much during the Olympics. There were even WWC souvenir vendors. It was mostly T-shirts and scarves. I was hoping there would be something like glassware or spoons to give my parents as gifts. I wanted to look around, see the shops, see the fanfare. I even wanted to spot a few Swiss in the crowd. I was fortunate to do so.

The crowd was packed full of Canada fans.

The crowd was packed full of Canadian fans.

I made my way to my seat in good time: 25 minutes before kickoff. At first the stadium didn’t look all that filled but it would build over time. Both the Canadian and Swiss teams were training on the field. Then they had to make way as someone was driving a sprayer over the field to spray water. I thought that was odd. Spraying water on artificial turf? Actually I think they did that so that players wouldn’t sustain the dreaded injuries feared before the start of the WWC.

Then the game began. The FIFA flags came out, the flags of Canada and Switzerland came out, the FIFA Anthem played and then the ref and the teams came out. As tradition at all FIFA games, the national anthems of both countries were played. The Canadian crowd was respectful during the playing of the Swiss national anthem but of course they erupted into singing to ‘Oh Canada.’

Yes, there were some Swiss fans there too.

Yes, there were some Swiss fans there too.

Then it was game time. Interesting how you’re trying to watch a game and take a lot of pictures at the same time. I was seated near a net. During the first half, it was Canada’s to save and Switzerland’s to challenge. During that time, I was able to watch some good defensive skills from Canada but I was also watching in fear. Any miss could lead to a goal from Switzerland. Over at the other end, it was Canada’s domain to score and it was hard to watch from where I was sitting. Often I had to look up to the jumbotrons to see what was happening. One thing I did remember seeing from that far away was Christine Sinclair getting a yellow card. The ref’s yellow card was enough to notice from 80 metres away. One thing to note is that I heard a lot of people saying that there was a lot of terrible reffing in this game. It was interesting trying to take pictures. I didn’t have my mode set on Sport so I ended up shooting a lot of pictures that were blurrier than they should be. I did get some good action shots.

The game always had me nerwous whenever the Swiss (in white) were on the attack.

The game always had me nervous whenever the Swiss (in white) were on the attack.

At the end of the first half, the game was scoreless. Canada and Switzerland did attack and did challenge at times. I decided to remain in my seat. There were some players out to train. The sprayer came out again. And Shueme came out to greet the crowds and get pictures from fans.

Then the second half started. Things switched around this time. The net I was near was now Canada’s to score and Switzerland’s to defend. However it was only a matter of seven minutes when I was able to witness the goal from Josee Belanger. The crowd erupted! Actually it was hard to see with everyone standing up to cheer. Even I did. The crazy thing is that right after I sat down, I accidentally put my hand on top of the covered beer of the person next to me, causing a puncture and some spilled beer. She didn’t complain. She even gave me some popcorn to munch on. As for the goal, it was hard to see the actual goal so I had to rely on video replay to see it performed. Belanger delivered when it mattered. Belanger was also the most active Canadian striker that night delivering five of Canada’s seven shots. That goal gave the crowd enough positive energy to start a wave!

Yes, this is how I saw Belanger's goal.

Yes, this is how I saw Belanger’s goal.

One thing about the game is that I was able to see some crazy injuries from where I was. I saw on where Christine Sinclair was lying on the ground. Fortunately she was able to get up. However Melissa Tancredi was less fortunate. She was lying on the ground in pain and yes, she got up but she was limping around and a substitution was needed. Actually both teams went all out and used all three of their substitutions.

Canada (in red) hasn't been scoring an awful lot of goals but their defence has delivered each and every time.

Canada (in red) hasn’t been scoring an awful lot of goals but their defence has delivered each and every time.

Seeing the Swiss action at the other end would make me nervous as I would want Canada to win as would most of the 53,000 others in attendance. Each time the Swiss team posed a challenge, Canada delivered. My biggest memory from that was right into stoppage time, a Swiss player attempted a goal but goalkeeper Erin McLeod caught it and refused to let go, even as she was lying on the ground. It was like she was saying: “No, Canada is going to win this!”

Then the final whistle blew. Canada won! Their first win of a WWC knockout game since 2003 and it made Canada the only other host nation of a WWC besides the US to win a knockout game. The whole stadium was cheering. The whole team gathered to celebrate. Coach Herdman of course was happy. Goalkeeper Erin McLeod was declared the Woman Of The Match. Then the whole Canadian team took their victory lap. This was a great day for Canadians to be happy.

Canada wins! They'll be staying in Vancouver for their quarterfinal.

Canada wins! They’ll be staying in Vancouver for their quarterfinal.

I have to say that watching a football game live is different than watching it on television. It’s exciting to see the action close at you but when it’s far away, it’s hard to tell what’s happening and you have to rely on watching the jumbotron to know what exactly is happening. There were many times I wanted to get some pictures of Coach Herdman and his reactions but my zoom lens wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t even good enough when the action made its way to the other end of the stadium. I’m just glad Canada’s goal happened when I was close by.

The interesting thing I noticed about the crowd during the whole game is that you didn’t see the typical lunatic fringe type of crowd you’d normally see during soccer games in Europe or South America. Makes you wonder what the difference was. Was it because it was a woman’s game? Or because it was held in Canada? Sure there were people cheering loudly, the whole stadium was cheering for Canada and there were the occasional musicians in the crowd but there wasn’t that loud boisterous fanfare you’d normally hear at men’s World Cup games. I even watched the final of the U-20 World Cup that was contested in New Zealand and even there you heard the loud boisterous cheering you’d come to expect from a soccer match.

The Canadian team took their victory lap around BC Place.

The Canadian team took their victory lap around BC Place.

Nevertheless it was still a good event. The cheering may not have been loud or full of musicians but it was very supportive and passionate enough. That’s especially what I like best about this Women’s World Cup. Every men’s World Cup, Canadians always cheer for another country; most likely the one of their ethnic background. Canada has only qualified for the men’s World Cup in 1986. I don’t think there’s anything bad about what we do but it got on my nerves when I saw tweets and videos from Americans cheering for the USA. They’re not cheering for the country of their ancestry. They’re cheering for the USA! Knowing that cheesed me off. Here we can finally cheer for Canada!

Now when I bought the ticket back three weeks ago, I bought it as my best chance to see Canada play. I did not buy a ticket for the quarterfinal her in Vancouver which the winner of the match I saw would play in. I have to say I don’t mind. Sure, it would have been nice to have a ticket to see Canada play England in tomorrow’s game but I still have the satisfaction knowing I saw Canada play at the World Cup. Even better satisfaction that I saw Canada win. If they win tomorrow, great. I won’t be jealous of those who do have tickets. I had my time on Sunday and tomorrow will be their time.

So that was it. My very first World Cup game of any kind.You can forget about me having a ticket for the final. They all sold out long ago. Nevertheless it was a good experience and I’m glad I had the chance. That’s one item to cross off of my life’s ‘To Do List’ and hopefully chase a ticket or two for the men’s World Cup in the future.

My World Cup Experience: FIFA Fan Zone

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You can understand with the WWC happening here in Vancouver, there would be a ton of excitement. And rightly so. Fortunately for the city, we are one city getting the FIFA Fan Zone. On Monday, I thought I’d check the Fan Zone out for myself.

Usually when there are special things like these, I go alone before I go with friends to see what it’s like. Such was the case when I went to the FIFA Fan Zone two days ago. It’s located at Landwill Park: a concrete parking lot big enough to host downtown events. It was also the sight of events held for the Vancouver Winter Olympics five years ago. It’s located nearby BC Place which will host nine matches including the Final for the Cup.

HAVE A COKE AND A SMILE

The Zone has Coca-Cola as a major sponsor. As such free Cokes were given out to people in commemorative World Cup bottles. Coca-cola was the most noticeable sponsor at the Fan Zone but it wasn’t the only one. There was also a special photo stage from Adidas where one can get a picture of themselves kicking a soccer ball in a multitude of locations. There was also Hyundai asking people what kind of fan they are with a whole bunch of questions ending with entry into a contest to win a Hyundai.

It wasn’t only the big brand names advertising there. There was also a Canadian online security system which featured a photo op to have you as the goalkeeper and asked what kind of defender you are in promotion of their online service. There were local vendors selling food. There was also the BC Sports Hall of Fame promoting their place. They also had a sample of the turf being used at BC Place during the World Cup. It looked like real grass but felt like silicon.

GAMES, GAMES, GAMES

The mini-field is an ideal place for small children to simply play football or learn new skills.

The mini-field is an ideal place for small children to simply play football or learn new skills.

The biggest thing you’ll notice at the Fun Zone is the games featured at the Fun Zone. Remember I told you about the Ultimate Goalie? She’s back and she still performs as well as she did back at Metrotown. Included especially for the Fun Zone is a child drop-off area where children can practice football skills on a mini-field.

There were some new games this time around. There was also a dribbling game. It was a case of a mat of eight circles where one lights up at any time. You’re to dribble the ball to touch that circle. Once you get it there, you get 10 points and have to dribble to the next lit-up circle. You have to get a certain number of points to win a prize. I tried it and I didn’t!

Goalkeeper Challenge allows the player to virtually block the ball with their hands.

Goalkeeper Challenge allows the player to virtually block the ball with their hands.

There were also video games involving performance. One was a penalty kick game called Kickpoint. No goalkeeper there but when you kick the ball to the next, the area it hits is of a certain pointage as displayed on the computer. Hit the area with big points and you win a prize.

Then there’s the chance for the player to be the goalkeeper in the video game called Goalkeeper Challenge. However there’s no controller. This is a body scan game where the game corresponds with the player’s arm and hand movements. However they have to be in the right catching position as they will have to try to catch the virtual ball kicked at them.

SIT BACK, RELAX AND CHEER

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The Fan Zone is the place to sit back, relax and cheer you team on in a well-shaded area.

The games are mostly fun for children. The Fun Zone is especially there for the fan. The Zone has a wide canopy where people can watch games on a Jumbotron. It’s a good opportunity to kick back, relax or even cheer loudly.  Alcohol consumption is fine in the Fan Zone but the Zone includes a lounge area which serves special drinks.

At the time, they were actually showing the U.S. vs. Australia game instead of the games being contested at BC Place. Games are already scheduled well in advance so even on the days matches are played simultaneously, there will only be one broadcast match. One thing’s for sure. Every game Canada plays will be broadcast there.

MORE THAN FUN AND GAMES

FIFA's Live Your Goals campaign to expand women's football was a major feature at the Fan Zone.

FIFA’s Live Your Goals campaign to expand women’s football was a major feature at the Fan Zone.

Sure there are a lot of fun and games at the FIFA Fan Zone. However the Fan Zone also takes the time to focus on women’s football. The locker room-style setting where one learns of the history of the Women’s World Cup returns to the Fan Zone after good views at the trophy tour. The ‘Live Your Goals’ program that I talked about in my blog about women’s football is there for promotion. It has a goal and a vision of expanding football especially in developing countries and other countries where football has been traditionally seen as a man’s game. As mentioned in my former blog, it plans to increase the number of girls and women playing football from 30 million to 45 million before the start of the 2019 WWC in France.

MORE DAYS TO COME

Special note to Vancouver residents is that the Fan Zone is not open every single day of the WWC. It is definitely open on days when Team Canada is scheduled to play and whenever Vancouver is hosting a game. Below is the schedule for other days when the Fan Zone will be open:

  • Friday June 11 – 12 noon to 9 pm
  • Monday June 15 – 12 noon to 8 pm
  • Tuesday June 16 – 12 noon to 8 pm
  • Sunday June 21 – 12 noon to 8 pm
  • Tuesday June 23 – 3 pm to 10 pm
  • Saturday June 27 – 12 noon to 8 pm
  • Wednesday July 1 (Canada Day) – 12 noon to 8 pm
  • Saturday July 4 – 12 noon to 5 pm
  • Sunday July 5 – 12 noon to 8 pm

Musical performers are slated to perform on the days it’s open.

As for my visit, it was nice to see what it was like to be there. It would be neat to see a game but especially if it was crowded. I know it will be during the finals or during games where Team Canada plays. I was also able to see a ‘freestyle footballer’ as she demonstrated her foot juggling skills with the football. That’s something that has been growing lately: freestyle football. I saw people get their faces painted to cheer on their teams. I saw a news crew from Switzerland interview a couple of Swiss fans. It was nice.

If you’re in Vancouver, go and visit the FIFA Fan zone when you have a chance. Good for families, good for young ones who want to cheer on their team, good for anyone.

Disaster Close To Home

The tourism activities in English Bay were suspended by the spill for at least eleven days.

The tourism activities in English Bay were suspended by the spill for at least eleven days.

All too often whenever we hear of a disaster, it’s miles away. All too often it seems it’s at the other end of the world. However something happened just two months ago that hit close to home.

Wednesday April 8, 2015 was supposed to be like any other day including around English Bay: a beach located close to downtown Vancouver. Unfortunately bad news struck. A freighter called the Marathassa accidentally spilled 2700 litres of bunker oil into the waters of the Georgia Strait near the English Bay beaches. The biggest shock is that the federal government authorities did not alert the public about this for 12 hours.

Those enjoying leisure activity around the waters could have been affected. This oil is harmful if inhaled, can cause fertility or organ damage and could cause cancer. The oil would wash up on surrounding beaches creating a slick six to eight inches thick. At least twenty seabirds were affected by the spill. When news hit that day, the whole city was in shock. Especially since English Bay has been very popular with tourists and residents for leisure.  For at least, ten days, the beach was closed off to the public warning them not to engage in any activities in the water.

No doubt that this was huge news that week. Even bigger was the shock that this incident wasn’t alerted to the public by the federal government until 12 hours after it happened. Already people were outraged. Even the decision to close the Kitsilano Coast Guard base two years ago was to blame. Both the municipal and provincial governments through Gregor Robertson and Christy Clark, environmental scientists and an international shipping expert criticized the federal government’s lack of immediate response. However Roger Girouard, Assistant Commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard, defended it and said: “You don’t contain 80 per cent of a spill inside 36 hours and call that inadequate. I will not accept that definition of my team in the ops centre or on the water. Look at the normal standards throughout the world and what we achieved over the last couple of days, it was exceptional.” Okay, it’s exceptional in terms of containment but notifying the city 12 hours later exceptional? Even our national Coast Guard leaders as Coast Guard Commisioner Jody Thomas described the response as ‘exceptional.’ Makes you question our current Coast Guard heads.

Most of the oil washed up on other shores but the dirty foam was enough of a reminder of what occurred three days earlier.

Most of the oil washed up on other shores but the dirty foam was enough of a reminder of what occurred three days earlier.

On Saturday the 11th just three days after the incident happened, I walked English Bay to see for myself any noticeable aftermath. I didn’t get anything too tragic or too graphic-looking. What I did get was enough to give me quite a picture. Freighters were all along the bay. Business as usual in Canada’s busiest ports. Recreation as usual but only as far as people sailing recreational ships. People wanting to do recreation on the beach were warned not to do so by signs. The beaches of English Bay were lifeless except for a few people that just want to visit. I didn’t notice any blotches of oil or sludge washing up on the ricks at the beach. News reports at the time said that they’ve cleaned up over 95% of the spill. However I did notice something unpleasant: foam. Foam had just washed up and right on top you can see dirt of a black or grey dinge. An ugly reminder of what happened. I was looking around to see any birds or other animals around the beach. I didn’t find any. Actually a map of the spill would show that more areas around the coasts of West Vancouver or Stanley Park would be hit bigger.

It’s going to be hard to try and calculate the whole damage of what happened. There were no fatalities and no record of illnesses caused by the spill. As for environmental damage and its effect on wildlife, that also remains unanswered. Even though there hasn’t been too much reported two weeks after the spill, two months is still not enough time to tell the whole story. In fact it was later reported on April 29th that a slick 80 metres long and six to eight inches thick made its way the Sandy Cove in West Vancouver: the other side of the shore. English Bay was not the only area hit. New Brighton Park, ten miles away from the spill, was even hit.This will really affect the Burrard Inlet.

I don’t even know if the crew of the MV Marathassa have been arrested. They should be and they should go on trial for this, more than anyone else. Canada’s laws ensure that polluters are held financially liable, and the operators of the MV Marathassa have agreed to pay for clean up and to appear in future legal proceedings that could lead to fines. Further news revealed this was actually the Marathassa’s maiden voyage.

Leisure activity did eventually return to English Bay. This photo taken on Victoria Day (May 18th).

Leisure activity did eventually return to English Bay. This photo taken on Victoria Day (May 18th).

I did return to English Bay just two weeks ago. The signs are no longer there. They were taken down after April 19th. The shores no longer have that dirty foam. There wasn’t too huge of a turnout at the coast that sunny Monday which happened to be a national holiday: Victoria Day. There was a mother who took her toddler child to the coast. That was something you couldn’t do over a month earlier. I saw a bird flying over the coast and even walking close to the shoreline. Seeing that made me hope the water’s safe. I don’t know how long it will be until English Bay will become swimmable again.

The oil spill isn’t that colossal of a disaster as say recent disasters like the earthquakes in Nepal or even the train crash in Philadelphia. It was chicken feed compared to legendary spills like the 210 million liters from BP off the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 or even all that spilled from the Exxon Valdez disaster. Nevertheless it did hit close to home and it’s going to affect a lot of attitudes in the city towards oil.

WORKS CITED:

Mackin, Bob. “Feds On The Offensive Over English Bay Fuel Spill” Vancouver Courier. 10 April 2015<http://www.vancourier.com/news/feds-on-the-offensive-over-english-bay-fuel-spill-1.1820657>

WIKIPEDIA: 2015 English Bay. Wikipedia.com. 2015. Wikimedia Foundation Inc.<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_Bay_%28Vancouver%29>

Canadian Press. “The MV Marathassa given the all clear to return to normal operations” News 1130. 25 April 2015<http://www.news1130.com/2015/04/25/the-mv-marathassa-given-the-all-clear-to-return-to-normal-operations/>

My World Cup Experience: Trophy Tour

As you can tell, I’ve been excited about the Women’s World Cup coming. It was a long time in anticipation. This was actually the last weekend before the World Cup is to begin this Saturday in Edmonton. With it came the Trophy Tour concluding in Burnaby. I had the good fortune to visit that afternoon.

120The FIFA Women’s World Cup trophy tour was a tour that happened in twelve cities across Canada including the six cities that have the venues for the Cup. The purpose was to showcase the World Cup encased in glass. The tour also allowed for other things too like a chance to learn more about FIFA’s goals in women’s football and to learn more about the Cup and its 24 years. There were also games and giveaways as well as music and an appearance from the mascot Shueme. The final stop of the journey was Vancouver. The event took place at Burnaby’s Metrotown: the biggest shopping mall in all of Greater Vancouver. Sunday morning was my one free chance I had to go see it. I’m glad I did.

THERE’S ALWAYS A LINE-UP

A week or two ago, I saw something from the Coca-cola web page on the tour saying there tickets through Ticketmaster available. At that time, I instantly thought you needed a ticket to see the trophy. I agreed to a ticket. They came at no cost so I really lost nothing. I arrived at the area in Metrotown where the event was supposed to take place–the lower level where Toys ‘R Us and T&T Groceries are– and I saw the line up. Most didn’t have a ticket. It wasn’t really needed. It may have helped for some getting to see the Cup sooner but it wasn’t needed. For kids too impatient to wait in line, there was a foosball table in the outside area.

Meeting with mascot Shueme made the wait in line easier.

Meeting with mascot Shueme made the wait in line easier.

I actually forgot my ticket at home so I ended up waiting in line. I arrived at 10:55: five minutes before the event was to begin. I could see volunteers setting up. I could see Shueme in the waiting area. Then at 11am it all began. Music was playing and the line was actually moving faster than I thought. Shueme actually left the event area and was walking around the Metrotown concourse including around the outside foosball table. Yes, they had a foosball table out in case people got too bored waiting. Fortunately she came around where I was standing. I told the volunteer I hope to get a picture with her when she returns to inside. The volunteer actually offered to take the picture right there. It was great.

VIEWING THE CUP

Here I am with the Women's World Cup!

Here I am with the Women’s World Cup!

It wasn’t even half an hour of a line up when I finally had the chance to see the Cup. However just before I got in, I saw there was a separate line up for the virtual goalie. I’ll talk more about that later. The exhibit could only have so many people at once so they had to group people: those seeing the Cup, those in the Winners Tunnel who were next in line and those in the waiting area.

The waiting area was there to keep us entertained while we were one step closer to seeing the Cup. There was one section that looked like a dressing room but it had jerseys commemorating past Cup champions. As well as there were pads that had WWC trivia. There was also a DJ spinning music with the official ball, the conext15, on display. Then came the Winners Tunnel. This was the section for those about to see the Cup. In there, people waited for about five minutes. Nevertheless we were treated to a video with scenes from the previous World Cup and even clips from the qualifiers.

Then it finally came to our turn to see the Cup. It was encased in glass and there were already cameras set up so we can have a custom portrait for sharing. Just go to the website and key in the code. I think mine turned out well. Finally of course with Coca-Cola hosting the event, people were treated to a free Coke in a commemorative aluminum bottle. I have mine as a keepsake.

A FUTURE CARNIVAL GAME?

That's the virtual goalie, controlled by motion sensors that make the split-second decision of which angle to block the shot.

That’s the virtual goalie, controlled by motion sensors that make the split-second decision of which angle to block the shot.

Not everything was about the Cup. Some wanted to try their luck at the Ultimate Goalie. How does it work? First it involves the participant doing a penalty kick into a net smaller than usual. Secondly the goalie is placed right in the middle of the goal post. Successful penalty kicks win a free commemorative shirt. The thing about this goalie is that it’s on a semicircle of 180. What controls the goalie are motion-sensor cameras that are able to detect how fast the ball is going and what direction it’s headed. The computers are programmed to position the goalie at the right angle to stop the shot. This was very smart and very fast. I remember seeing a couple of shots taken that were very fast and she was able to stop it. I took a shot at it and she even stopped mine. Fortunately for me, there were two people that said I delivered a good shot. I’m not over the hill yet! As for the goalie, I would not be surprised if I see that as a carnival game anytime soon. Good luck in trying to win!

I GOT A TICKET!

For a long time I was hoping to get a ticket. For the last few days I was hoping to get a ticket for a certain Round of 16 game. However I wondered if it would be too expensive. Not just because of the price but the ticket processing fee and tax added on. I wanted a second class ticket for that event but thought maybe it’s better I got third class. Glad I waited because just as I was in line to see the Cup, I heard that tickets were 30% off that day. By the time I was done seeing the Cup, I was ready to order my ticket. Yes, there was a bit of a line up for buying it and very often it was a case of families buying tickets together because of discounts for groups. Sometimes it took a family ten minutes or longer to have their order finalized.

Finally it was my turn and I knew what I wanted as I was eyeballing that seat on Ticketmaster the past few days. Knowing what I wanted and where only made me wait five minutes. There was a bit of card trouble at first but I finally got it: a second-class Round of 16 ticket that was originally billed at $75 I bought for just under $62. It was worth it! Now I just have to wait to see if Canada’s playing as one team slated to play is the first-place team of Group A. I’ll be shocked if it’s not Canada!

And there you go: my visit to the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Trophy Tour. It was fun and a bit tiring but it was worth it in the end.

GROUP RECAP

Okay, for those of you just hitting my blog for the first time, below are links to my predictions for each group in the Group Stage:

A VIFF 2014 Wrap-Up: A Record Year

CinemaDISCLAIMER: Okay, I know this is a month late but I’ve had some computer problems plus I was waiting for some certain facts that still have not yet come. Nevertheless I decided to publish this VIFF wrap-up as is today. Especially since I want to get my review of Mommy out soon.

The Vancouver International Film Festival wrapped itself up the night of Friday, October 10th. It was quite the sixteen days of films, discussions, films, events, films. You get the point. Nevertheless the end gave lots for people at the VIFF to smile about.

You may remember last year was about getting used to a new system of theatres with the closure of both the Granville 7 and the Ridge. This led to two new smaller theatres, a back-theatre to a mainstage and temporary use of three theatres in a downtown megaplex. It worked out well in the end in more ways than one.  Firstly it helped the VIFF have a very good per-screen average of attended. Secondly it was an opportunity to learn and make improvements for the following year. This year was really excellent both in terms of attendance and festivities. I’ll get to the numbers later in my blog. One thing is that the film festival heads were now more familiar with the new format and could make it work better this time.

It seems like each year is a new adventure both in watching films and volunteering. Volunteering was a unique thing this year as people could now schedule their shifts electronically via an online booking system. Nevertheless things were the same that we all still had to sign in and sign out via a paper sheet. Yep, they still keep a total of hours through that method. One of the good things about the electronic system is that it expected people to trade shifts if they couldn’t make it or call in to cancel. A confirmation e-mail would be sent to them with a number for them to call and cancel if they couldn’t make it. If they didn’t, they risked being dropped and having their volunteer card cancelled if they had free movies in mind.

Another unique thing this year was we were not all confined to a single theatre. We could book shifts to as many theatres as we wanted. The commitment level was still expected as we were still expected to meet up with the theatre manager at all our shifts. I was able to book for SFU Woodwards, Cinematheque, The Rio, International Village (Tinseltown) and the Centre for Performing Arts. I think the only ones I didn’t do were the VanCity and the Queen Elizabeth Playhouse. Nevertheless it made for some good times. It made for some frustrations too in the case of scanners that delayed their use at times or didn’t scan passes or iPhones well.

One unique duty as far as volunteering was surveying. This was something new as I’ve never seen surveying done before. It wasn’t an easy thing to do as there wasn’t that huge of a number of people willing to do it at first. When incentives for entry into a contest came up, I made myself willing. There were three times I did it: a Saturday and a Sunday at Tinseltown and closing day at the Centre for Performing Arts including the gala. It was a good focus on attendees with the prime focus on people from out of town.

Filmwatching opportunities were good for me as you can tell by my reviews. However this year was not the year I gave the most reviews. Last year was with 16. This year I was able to review 14 even though I saw 15 in their entirety or close enough. The only one I chose not to review was In Search Of Chopin because it was more a DVD biography of Chopin simply played in front of a big screen. I saw films from France, Canada, the UK, the US, New Zealand, Mexico, the Netherlands and South Korea. I saw comedies, dramas, documentaries, shorts, feature-length films, television shows brought to the screen, independent films and big production company films. It was a good mix though I wish I could see more variety but I’m not complaining. They were all unique and had their own styles. I don’t think I saw anything really bad this year. Also I don’t think any of the movies I saw pushed the envelope in a big way unlike in the past. I think El Incidente was probably the edgiest because it told a unique story of the supernatural.

The most interesting thing that happened on screen was the unexpected airing of a short before some films showed. The short was called Echoes and I saw it three times: only once in its entirety. The first time I saw it, it was as it was ending and I thought I walked into the theatre just as a film was finishing. I tried looking in my VIFF guide for it but couldn’t find it. All I knew was that it was produced by the Weinstein brothers. Then I saw it again just before I saw Haemoo. Once again I walked in long after the short started and it didn’t make much sense at first. Also this time it was at the Centre and they had a tent from Lexus where they were signing people up for a Lexus contest, in which I entered. Later on I learned of the title and researched it online. I saw some Youtube videos and write ups about it and how both Lexus and the Weinstein Group are involved in its promotion. It caught my interest but still left me confused what the short was all about. I finally did have a chance to see it in its entirety when I was in my seat long before I saw El Incidente. I finally got what it was all about and the point of airing it before the show. Funny how it wasn’t until the very last show when it all made sense.

The number of films I saw could have been higher especially with the Rio having their 11:30 at night screenings for seven of those days. However I would only be willing to see such a late-night film if it was worth it and I was guaranteed to return home in decent time that night. I only saw two 11:30 shows. There were some I passed up: the one the first Friday because of its late start time, the one the second Friday because I was ticket scanning and only finished scanning long after the film started, two because I already saw one film while ushering and that was enough, and the one on the Thursday before closing because I fell ill. Weird how I was still ill but saw the 11:30 Rio show on the last night of the VIFF. Hey, it’s a personal tradition of mine I either see the last VIFF movie or volunteer on closing day.

As for the festival itself, the Festival had its third-highest number in terms of flat ticket entries: 144,000. 2011 and 2010 had higher numbers but this year’s VIFF of 144,000 entries over 349 films exceeded 2011’s record for per-screen attendance of 150,000 over 386 films. The results are especially impressive when you compare it 2012 which had more films and with last year under the new format. Last year’s total entries were 130,000: an increase this year by more than 10%. Great job, VIFF!

Anyways here is the 2014 Vancouver International Film Festival by the numbers:

 

144,000: estimated gated attendance

1000+: Film and Television forum delegates

700+: volunteers

549: public screenings

349: films shown

  • 219: feature length (60+ minutes)
  • 130: short or mid-length films (less than 60 minutes)

76: Canadian Films shown

68: countries entering films

83: Canadian premieres

  • 45: North American premieres
  • 24: International premieres (first screening outside home country)
  • 11: World Premieres

24: Media Screenings

19: entries in the Best Foreign Language Film category for this year’s Oscars shown

18: percentage increase of visitors from the US

17: panels featuring 73 speakers

16: days of showing films

9: screens showing films

7: theatres participating in the VIFF

 

Now I know some of you want to know the award winners. Here they are:

ROGERS PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARD

-THE VANCOUVER ASAHI (Canada), dir. Ishii Yuya

VIFF MOST POPULAR INTERNATIONAL DOCUMENTARY FILM AWARD

-GLEN CAMPBELL: I’LL BE ME (USA), dir. James Keach

BEST NEW DIRECTOR AWARD (tie)

-MISS AND THE DOCTORS, dir. Axelle Ropert

-REKORDER, dir. Mikhail Red

VIFF MOST POPULAR CANADIAN DOCUMENTARY AWARD

-ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD, dir. Suzanne Crocker

Runners-Up: MARINONI, dir. Tony Girardin

-JUST EAT IT: A FOOD WASTE STORY, dir. Grant Baldwin

VIFF IMPACT AWARD

-JUST EAT IT: A FOOD WASTE STORY, dir. Grant Baldwin

VIFF MOST POPULAR CANADIAN FILM AWARD

-PREGGOLAND, dir. Jacob Tierney

WOMEN IN FILM AND TELEVISION ARTISTIC MERIT AWARD

-SITTING ON THE EDGE OF MARLENE, dir. Ana Valine

BEST CANADIAN FEATURE FILM AWARD

-VIOLENT, dir. Andrew Huculak

MOST PROMISING DIRECTOR OF A CANADIAN SHORT FILM

-THE CUT, dir. Geneviève Dulude-Decelles

Honorable Mention:

BEST BC FILM:

-VIOLENT, dir. Andrew Huculak

MUST SEE BC AWARD:

-JUST EAT IT: A FOOD WASTE STORY, dir. Grant Baldwin

BC EMERGING FILMMAKER AWARD:

-SITTING ON THE EDGE OF MARLENE, dir. Ana Valine

Those were awarded at Friday’s closing gala. After the VIFF closed, VIFF repeats happened at select theatres for three more days. I helped volunteer two of those days at the SFU. Then it was the volunteer party on Sunday. I was able to get there right after seeing Still Life. The party was at the Rickshaw Theatre and it started with a showing of the 1972 film The Poseidon Adventure which not only consisted of the movie being shown but a cast re-enacting and spoofing the movie. There were even times they had people from the audience including myself participate. After the showing, it was a feast on appetizers, drinks and dancing to two of the VIFF’s favorite bands. Of course there were prizes given away and this year’s posters being given out. Great to see this year’s VIFF end on an exciting note.

So there you go. The 2014 Vancouver International Film Festival ended with record success and fun for all volunteers. Next year’s VIFF is anticipated to be from September 24th to October 9th, 2015 and should be bigger and better. I know last year I said I hoped the VIFF would be one Film Festival added to the FIAPF: the International Federation of Film Producers Associations. However some people prefer that it’s not as they feel VIFF not being part of the FIAPF-associated film fests would add to the VIFF’s reputation being an unspoiled celebration of film. We’ll see in the future. Anyways things look optimistic already and the VIFF’s reputation improves over time. See you next year!

My Top 10 Movies of 2013

I’m glad I waited until now to do my Top 10 list. Being at a house with access to Netflix allows me to see some I missed back when they were out. For early reference, here are my past lists: from 2002-2010, 2011 and 2012. Now here’s my list of the Top 10 Films of 2013 and five honorable mention picks:

Will Forte (left), Bruce Dern (centre) and June Squibb (right) go on what appears to be a surprise homecoming, only to not be in Nebraska.

MY TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2013

  1. Nebraska
  2. Dallas Buyers Club
  3. Twelve Years A Slave
  4. Gravity
  5. The Great Beauty
  6. Captain Phillips
  7. Blue Jasmine
  8. Her
  9. The Wolf Of Wall Street
  10. Frozen

Honorable Mention:

  • Blue Is The Warmest Color
  • Philomena
  • Inside Llewyn Davis
  • American Hustle
  • Before Midnight

9.79: What Has Been Learned Since?

Ben Johnson taking the stand at the Dubin Inquiry in June 1989, eight months after testing positive for stanozolol at the Seoul Olympics.

Ben Johnson taking the stand at the Dubin Inquiry in June 1989, eight months after testing positive for stanozolol at the Seoul Olympics.

“Sooner or later your ability to succeed on natural talent runs out when you run against a chemical barrier. The question became do you take drugs to try to win or do you content yourself with losing forever by staying away from them?”

– Charlie Francis

“I think about it for about three weeks before I say yes. Why should I train hard doing it clean and then these other guys are not clean? Face fear…I was young, in the business and (Jamie Astaphan) was a doctor and he said ‘If you don’t take it, you won’t make it.'”

– Ben Johnson

Back on Tuesday, I posted my memories and thoughts of the big run, the events leading up to it and the aftermath. It made sense since it was the 25th anniversary of that controversial run. Today is another 25th anniversary: the anniversary of the bad news hitting the fan. Here I will reflect on what I’ve learned from watching 9.79* and all that I’ve noticed in doping in the years since.

I know I talked a lot about the ESPN 30 For 30 Film 9.79* in my last article. For those who haven’t seen it, 9.79* is a very informative documentary about the Ben Johnson scandal that not only tells about the process of how Ben got into taking steroids but also about the changing world of track and field at the time as well as the widespread doping amongst those in the track world at the time too. It not only interviews Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis but all eight runners that participated in what’s commonly called ‘the dirtiest race in Olympic history:’

  • Lane 1: Robson da Silva – Brazil
  • Lane 2: Raymond Stewart – Jamaica
  • Lane 3: Carl Lewis – USA
  • Lane 4: Linford Christie – Great Britain
  • Lane 5: Calvin Smith – USA
  • Lane 6: Ben Johnson – Canada
  • Lane 7: Desai Williams – Canada
  • Lane 8: Dennis Mitchell – USA

It also interviews the coaches of Carl Lewis, Calvin Smith and even the coach of the US Olympic track team of 1988. Calvin Smith is of special focus too as he was the 100m dash World Record holder until Ben broke it at the 1987 Worlds. It also interviews two of Ben’s former teammates from the Scarborough Optimist Track Club: Angella Issajenko and Desai Williams who had stories of their own of what they saw around them and what they themselves did. It also interviews those associated with the USOC Doping programs like Dr. Robert Voy and Dr. Don Catlin from the UCLA lab during the 1984 Summer Olympics. Members of Canada’s Olympic Committee, Robert Armstrong from the Dubin Inquiry and a doping historian are also interviewed as well as Mary Ormsby: a Toronto Star journalist. Mary’s analysis of Ben Johnson and those associated with him as well as Canadian attitudes and even celebrations of Ben during those times really summed it up well and really struck me.

There are many key people who were not present in the film like Ben’s mother, Dr. Jamie Astaphan, human growth hormone Dr. Robert Kerr, Charles Dubin, Alexandre De Merode and Charlie Francis because they’re all now deceased. There is however one film footage of interview of Charlie from 2000. Also Andre Jackson, whose significance I will talk about later, is not interviewed either.

BEFORE IT ALL STARTED

Long before the whole Ben Johnson scandal, I knew about doping in sports. I first took an interest in the Olympic Games back in 1984 in the months leading up to the Los Angeles Olympics. I was a kid back then and with each preview show and each book I read, my curiosity grew and grew and I continued to learn more about the Games. Even seeing shows about Olympians past like The Olympiad widened my knowledge and excitement. However there was one Olympic preview show that focused on the subject of doping and anabolic steroids. They even made mention of athletes from the Pan American Games the year before that tested positive including two Canadian weightlifters.

Later on I’d learn just slightly more about doping. Actually I learned about an Olympic fatality from 1960. It was Danish cyclist Knud Enemark Jensen in the team road race. Two other members of the Danish team also dropped out of the race. The coach later admitted to giving his riders Roniacol. Amphetamines were also found in his autopsy. That would lead to the start of doping tests in 1968. The first athlete stripped of a gold medal for a doping violation was American swimmer Rick de Mont for using an asthma medication. Even though the substance is no longer on the banned list, the IOC won’t give back his gold medal. Steroid use was known in the 70’s and it was actually 1976 that the Olympic Games started testing for them. There were steroid positives in Montreal. Moscow in 1980 had no positive tests but some medalists including two track and field gold medalists had been banned for a positive steroid test in the past.

WHAT LED TO IT ALL

Back to the subject of Ben Johnson, I made mention of how Ben Johnson burst onto the international scene by winning bronze in the 100m dash at the 1984 Olympics. That was a great improvement from the World Championships a year before where we only got as far as the semifinals. His two bronze was rather quiet news for Canada’s athletes as they had their best Olympics ever with 44 medals. Ten of them gold. Our ten golds during those Games were not only a delight but a relief since our last Summer Olympics gold medal came back in 1968. Between that time we had to deal with the embarrassment in Montreal in 1976 of becoming the first and so far only host nation of a Summer Olympics to fail to win gold. We also had to deal with the heartache of our 1980 Summer Olympics team not even making it to Moscow as Canada joined the U.S. in boycotting those Olympics.

What was going on is that the sports world knew what was going on in terms of doping back during the 70’s and 80’s. Just like Calvin Smith said:”(Track athletes) know more than the public ever will.” I guess you can say that about every sport. Charlie Francis, Ben Johnson’s coach, would compete for Canada in the 100m dash at the 1972 Munich Olympics. He would hear rumors of how 80% of the field were on steroids. The crunch of sport being full of people on performance enhancing drugs would get heavier after the 1976 Olympics and the successes of athletes like the East German swimmers and weightlifters from various countries who many knew were doped but they won and passed the drug tests. When Charlie himself took to coaching, he was determined to make champions out of his athletes. However he had to deal with the challenge of an unlevel playing field and felt the only way to win was to encourage his own athletes to use steroids. That attitude: “If you don’t take it, you won’t make it.” He would give them drugs he knew the East Germans were taking at mass level. He even hired Dr. Jamie Astaphan after the 1984 Olympics to increase sophistication in his steroid program.

As for why Ben and his teammates agreed to take steroids, it was more than just about the desire to win. It also wasn’t until I saw the film that his athletes considered him not just a coach but a friend. Ben Johnson, Desai Williams and Angela Issajenko looked up to him very highly. They were Canadian immigrants from the Caribbean who felt like misfits and they took aback to Charlie how he made them feel like they belonged and how he helped them to succeed as athletes. In fact Francis helped coach all three of them to the 1984 Olympic Games where they all came home with Olympic medals. In addition to Ben’s two bronzes, Desai was part of Canada’s bronze medal-winning relay team and Angella was part of Canada’s silver medal-winning women’s 4*100m  relay team. It’s that coach-athlete relationship thing that could have a lot to do with why they agreed to take the steroids at his encouragement. They looked up to him that much. Coach-athlete relationships are also of focus in 9.79* as it shows the relationships between Carl Lewis and Tom Tellez and Joe Douglas as well as Calvin Smith and his coach Wayne Williams. One thing the film showed me is that for all the show-off and braggart I always saw Carl Lewis to be, I admire him for the huge respect he had for his coaches and still has. Like he sang in his flop song: “You can’t win on your own.”

I’ll admit I knew a lot about doping even before the 1984 Summer Olympics. I’ll admit, as evident in my article from Tuesday, that I learned a lot of what was going on in the Scarborough Optimists Track Club and other athletic sources around that time. In watching the film 9.79*, the things that stuck most with me were the things I don’t remember or didn’t know about. The mention of the USOC and the drug testing programs back in 1983 were a surprise to me. Even as well the number of noticeable tampered or ‘chemically masked’ samples they attained and how none of the athletes were punished but warned instead. I’ll admit I didn’t pay much attention to the BALCO scandal that came to light in 2003. I knew only partial details and mention of Carl Lewis testing positive for a banned stimulant but I didn’t know all the facts. Also I didn’t know about the missing positive results from the last days of the 1984 Olympics. Nor did I know about Human Growth Hormone being untestable at the time. I’ve always known it to be testable but I forgot there was a time when it wasn’t.

This film gave more information about the doping programs created and the lightweight actions carried out. One of the things I was not surprised about was when Dr.  Don Catlin talked about him asking the athletes why they were taking drugs. The answer was obvious: they want to win. Even as track and field was being professionalized, it became obvious that success was winning medals. In fact I remember the USOC conducted a survey in 1988 where they asked athletes who trained at the US Olympic Centre in Colorado Springs the survey question: “If you were given a pill that was guaranteed to make you Olympic champion but would kill you within five years, would you take it?” The result: 52% said “Yes.”

THERE’S MORE TO IT THAN DOPING

The film doesn’t just simply show you thoughts and opinions of those surrounding the event, and especially the subject of doping in track and field. The film also focuses on the sport of sprinting. It shows a lot of the training whether it be old videotapes of Ben’s workouts or even Dennis Mitchell coaching his young athletes. Ben will remind you in his conversations as demonstrated by Dennis Mitchell in his coaching that track athletes push their bodies beyond the human limits to be the best. Desai Williams summed it up well in his own words: “You work every single day, five or six days a week. You’re going to beat yourself into the ground. It’s tough: the sacrifice that every track person makes with no guarantee. None.”

The film also shows the times in which this was all happening too. The film also reminds us that this was happening at a huge turning point in track and field. Until 1980, professionals were not allowed to compete at the Olympics. If you wanted Olympic gold, you couldn’t make a single penny off your sport. Any money you made had to be a well-kept-secret. In fact track and field had separate amateur and professional leagues. Once professional athletes were given the green-light to compete in the Olympics in the early 80’s, things changed. Athletes who dreamed of Olympic gold didn’t have to accept under-the-table money anymore. Meets run by the IAAF could pay the athletes. Athletes in Olympic sports who had high profiles could hire agents. However professionalizing track and field it didn’t come without its growing pains. Meets hopping on the professional bandwagon had to market themselves. Hence Zurich’s Weltklasse being passed off as ‘The Olympics In One Night.’ Only athletes with big star status like Carl Lewis or Daley Thompson could command big appearance fees. The Carl Lewis/Ben Johnson rivalry was a great boost to the professionalizing of the sport and created a rivalry that drew crowds. Prize money per athlete varied anywhere from big money for the top finishers to chicken feed for the also-rans. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the prize money thing could cause problems in terms of doping.

That was quite an era for track. I don’t think there has been an athlete since Carl Lewis that could be that big of a draw, although I see a rival in Usain Bolt currently. There also hasn’t been a rivalry as exciting as the Carl Lewis/Ben Johnson rivalry. Not even the Carl Lewis/Mike Powell rivalry in the long jump that happened years later was as exciting, nor the rivalry of Carl Lewis vs. age during the mid-90’s. There isn’t a rivalry nowadays, not even Usain Bolt vs. Yohan Blake, that has the same excitement.

WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE

Also remember how I talked about the East Germans and that being Angella Issajenko’s drive to hop on Charlie’s doping bandwagon? Well shortly after Germany reunified in 1990, just a year after the Dubin Inquiry concluded, the confessions were out that East Germany had a program of systematically administering steroid to their athletes headed by the Stasi, East Germany’s equal to the KGB. They knew which drugs to give which athletes, when to break them off to avoid detection, how often doses were needed to reach top performance and which drugs were undetectable at the time. After the confessions, many former East German Olympic champions have admitted to being part of the program. Some have asked their records be stripped and some are willing to give their medals back. One thing is many are reluctant to give their medals back, giving a common claim: “Yes, I was on steroids but I had the talent to win.” The thing is all of the records held by East Germans, even the world records, still stand and none of the medals have been demanded back by the IOC. That especially bites as a Canadian knowing that in three women’s swimming events in 1976, the fastest non-East German was a Canadian. It’s a shame. Three gold medals from Montreal that could’ve been and should be.

The thing was the intention of the Dubin Inquiry was not just to get to the bottom of Ben Johnson’s positive from Seoul. It was also to expose truths about doping in the sports world and hope to clean up sport not only in Canada but around the world too. If it did, it was quite minimal. You know how there are a lot of things that would eventually defeat their purpose over time like called ID and warning stickers on records? The Dubin Inquiry also defeated its purpose in a lot of aspects. This was the only time in history athletes confessed their doping use under oath. The subsequent punishments to the athletes who confessed caused many athletes to be a lot more protective of their innocence even after they test positive. Some would maintain their innocence to the point of taking their doping situation to court. They know that meets outside of the World Championships and the Olympic Games have doping labs that don’t have the same top-notch consistency and errors in procedures can result. They can use that to overturn their positive. There are even countries that know of positives in their own country but hide it around Olympic time so that the athlete can compete and win. A country like Canada can’t afford to do something like that, not after the embarrassment of Ben Johnson’s positive.

The 1996 Atlanta Games would present a new doping situation. There were many cases where athletes with positives outside of steroids would give explanations of taking medicine given by their team doctor. They’d be exonerated and they’d get their medals back. However it was made obvious at Sydney in 2000 that this kind of forgiveness was over when Romanian gymnast Andreea Raducan tested positive for a stimulant provided to her by the team doctor. Instead of exoneration, the stripping of her all-around gold medal stood and the doctor was suspended for two Olympic cycles. That was it. No more exonerations over a team doctor’s bad medicine. Enough was enough.

Doping still continues to be an issue in sport. New drug discoveries, new incentives or new needs to revamp the testing, new ways of dealing with doping, and even new commissions like WADA: the World Anti-Doping Agency, which was started in 1998 after officials believed the IOC lacked consistency in cracking down on dopers. WADA is headquartered in Montreal and headed by Canada’s Dick Pound who used to be the Vice-President of the IOC. In the 2000’s it was the Americans that were most under fire for doping in sport. If there were cover-ups during the 80’s, the cover-ups weren’t happening anymore as many sprinters were faced with positive drug tests. Marion Jones was the most famous as she would take years to confess her own steroid abuse since 2000. Even while two ex-husbands of hers had already tested positive during the times of her marriages, it still took her until 2007 to confess it all.

There are always new drugs. There are always new ways to try and get them and try to stay ahead of the tests. One thing is that there are some advancements. Out-of-competition testing has increased with surprise tests and even programs sponsored by the USOC where top runners volunteer to have themselves tested. One of which is sprinting star Allyson Felix. In addition, each Olympics takes doping tests to unprecedented levels than from before. Beijing 2008 introduced a new procedure where all tests would include samples frozen for four years and retested to crack down on athletes who thought they could be ‘ahead of the game.’ London 2012 had it so that every athlete in every sport that finished in the Top 5 in each event was tested. Also I don’t think we’ll ever see an equal to the sophistication of the East German doping program. That has to be the most successful systematic doping program of all time. China tried to copy that program in the 90’s but it wouldn’t work as positives resulted.

Steroid use isn’t just limited to sport. It’s also subject to professional wrestlers too and it was made a big issue in the wake of the murder-suicide of Chris Benoit and his family. Many believe ‘Roid Rage to be the cause. Steroid use is even rampant simply with men who go to the gym to work out. Ask anyone that works at a gym. There are even teenage boys and some as young as 11 going to guidance counselors and asking for steroids simply to look bigger. Even after they hear of the consequences, they still want it because they only care about their looks. I know there’s a lot of attention made to young girls and anorexia. I believe there should also be the same attention to young boys and steroids.

Interesting to note is that Track And Field is not the Olympic sport with the biggest doping problems. Weightlifting is. In fact just days before Ben Johnson would make the biggest doping news out of Seoul, two Bulgarian weightlifters who had won gold medals tested positive for diuretics, a drug possibly intended to be a masking agent. Funny how it could mask the steroids but failed to mask itself and caused the lifters to give back their gold medals, both receive the same sports ban as a steroid positive and cause the whole Bulgarian weightlifting team to return home prematurely and in embarrassment. Weightlifting has gotten tougher on doping. They have since changed the weights of weight classes and erased past records to start on a clean slate. They now give lifetime bans on the first steroid positive. They also place bans on nations who have multiple lifters that test positive consistently. One nation currently on that banned list is Bulgaria.

Funny thing is that the sprints are not the events in Track And Field with the biggest doping problem. It’s the throwing events. You’d be surprised how many Olympic medals have been given back in those events. The shot putters however have received the most doping positives and most returned medals. 9.79* presents the doping problem of the 1980’s and portrays it as the heyday of doping in sprints, or as Calvin Smith put it: “a time of big time drugs.” It doesn’t seem as rampant at first but 2013 shed light that it’s still a problem, if not at the same length as back in the 80’s. This year there were three doping positives from sprinters that made news which included former World Record holder Asafa Powell of Jamaica and former World Champion Tyson Gay of the US. In fact Powell tested positive for the same stimulant his Jamaican teammate Sherone Simpson tested positive for. This could cause suspicion over the Jamaican track program which has been so dominant in sprinting and hurdling over the past seven years.

ADDITIONAL NOTES ABOUT THE FINAL

Interesting thing about that final is that all of the runners in that final would have won Olympic medals in their careers. In fact you’ll see in 9.79* footage of the victory ceremony of the 1984 Men’s 4*100m relay: the US won gold with Jamaica silver and Canada bronze. There in that footage you’ll see five of the eight finalists: Lewis, Smith, Stewart, Johnson and Williams. As for the other three finalists:

  • Linford Christie who finished third would get his bronze upgraded to silver in the aftermath and would be Olympic 100m champion in 1992.
  • Robson da Silva won bronze in the 200m four days later.
  • Dennis Mitchell would have to wait until 1992 to win Olympic medals where he won bronze in the individual 100m and gold in the 4*100 relay which Carl Lewis anchored to a new world record.

Also interesting to note is the drug issues the other athletes faced after the 1988 Olympics:

  • Raymond Stewart: His doping issues came as a coach after he retired from running. It was made evident he was giving performance enhancing drugs to his athletes. The USADA banned him from coaching for life in 2010.
  • Carl Lewis: so far that banned stimulant was the only known violation he did. Had proper doping procedures been carried out, he would have been banned for three months including the 1988 Olympics. However the USOC exonerated Lewis when he showed an official the supplements he was taking and classified it as an ‘inadvertent positive.’
  • Linford Christie: he actually tested positive for a banned stimulant after the 100m dash final but was exonerated by the IOC’s disciplinary committee vote of 11 to 10 to keep him from sanctions. He wasn’t so lucky in 1999. An indoor meet in Germany tested him positive for Nandrolone and he was slapped with a two-year ban.
  • Dennis Mitchell: he was banned for two years in 1998 for showing high levels of testosterone.

You yourself would be interested seeing the reactions of them when they’re confronted by Gordon in 9.79* of their own doping issues. Raymond insists that what he was giving to athletes were Vitamin B12 and insists he’s innocent. Carl Lewis provided me with one of my favorite moments while watching 9.79* When confronted about his positive for the banned stimulant, he gets all defensive and even insists on the fact that the stimulant is no longer on the banned list. Looks like Carl isn’t completely the Mr. Clean he packages himself to be. Linford isn’t questioned about the stimulant from 1988 but he is about the nandrolone from 1999. He tries to make like he’s ‘Mr. Clean’ and denies his 1999 positive even though he never did anything to legally overturn the result.  Dennis Mitchell appears to be the only one of the others with a positive test willing to confess his wrongdoings. He admits to making a bad coaching decision and bad choices along the way.

It looks as though the only athletes never to have any doping issues in their careers was Calvin Smith and Robson da Silva, just two. If I had my way, I’d give the gold to Smith, silver to da Silva, get all the semifinalists who failed to qualify together for a run-off and give the bronze to the winner. That should fix everything. That’s another thing about the film is that it shows Calvin to be the one that should’ve been Olympic champion and even the sprinting great that could’ve been. Makes you wonder what would’ve happened had the field been level. Also sad to see that he may have received the bronze medal after Johnson’s disqualification but there wasn’t a second medal ceremony. Reminds you that even after justice was done, that’s the one thing missing.

The crazy thing about the whole doping thing is that the most honest former athletes in 9.79* were the Canadians. Of course, the Dubin Inquiry exposed it all. Ben, Desai and Angella were all punished. The Canadian ones lost the most and they have nothing left to hide and no one left to hide it from. Ben however acts like he still feels he deserves respect for what he did. Almost like he feels that since the field was unlevel and he was just the one that didn’t get away, he should receive some sort of vindication. Even his mention of Andre Jackson and the sabotage he claims–he claims Andre slipped pills in his beers and training water and even admitted it to him years later–makes me question his character. I felt like saying to Ben: “Just admit the truth.” Besides the Dubin Inquiry exposed the facts that Astaphan injected Ben with stanazolol that was called Winstrol before the competition. I want to think that it was the injections from Astaphan that caused the positive in Seoul. For those that didn’t see the film, Jackson responded to Ben’s allegations with an uninterviewed answer: “Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. What was carried out in 1998 cannot and will not be invalidated.” Nevertheless it does make me wonder how an athlete from the Santa Monica Track Club who never qualified for the Olympics was able to get Olympic credentials to be with the finalists and even be with Ben in the doping room. That claim from Douglas that he was there to see if Johnson was taking a masking agent to cover up steroids in his system even got me thinking.

Desai and Angella however made class acts of themselves in the film by being honest and setting the record straight about themselves, their own doping and about what it’s like to be an elite athlete. I don’t condone sports doping of any kind but can  understand the pressure to win these athletes feel. However I now have more respect for Angella and Desai as they have appeared to get wiser over time.

Of the non-Canadians, the most honest Americans were the doping officials Voy and Catlin. Now that the BALCO scandal exposed the cover-up facts starting in 2003, they can tell the whole story. Funny how Carl and his coaches deny everything. Carl’s lifetime coach Tom Tellez insists: “As a coach I wouldn’t want to (encourage steroid use.)You’re not a coach anymore!” Yes, there’s no evidence to suggest Carl used steroids–even coach Douglas’ statement about Carl’s eyes suggest Carl’s innocence–but seeing how defensive Carl gets when the positive at the 1988 Olympic trials is brought up suggests Carl may have something to hide.

Calvin Smith however was a class act as he was able to tell it how he saw it.  Robson was another class act too. I like how he made mention of the potential money he lost in that race and mentions: “…but I sleep very nice every night.” You probably can’t say that about those that doped, even those that passed every doping test in their career.

There are a lot of interesting notes about what has happened since that race. 9.79 is no longer the world’s fastest time. It would be 11 years until a runner was able to touch 9.79 and pass the drug tests. It was American Maurice Greene at the 1999 World Championships. For the record, Greene never tested positive in any of his drug tests. 9.79 his either been touched or surpassed by seven sprinters since. In fact 9.79 was only good enough for a bronze in the London Olympic final. The world record is now 9.58 set by Jamaica’s Usain Bolt in 2009. Bolt also holds the Olympic record with the 9.63 he ran in London last year. The Canadian Record is 9.84 and is owned by Donovan Bailey for his gold medal run in 1996 and Bruny Surin for his second-place finish at the 1999 Worlds.

There’s no record whether the Scarborough Optimists club still exists. It wouldn’t surprise me if it folded in the midst of the scandal. Charlie Francis returned to coaching after the Dubin inquiry but was later banned for life when he made it clear he would return to giving his athletes steroids. He would later become a respected personal trainer and in 2003 would secretly train American sprinters Tim Montgomery and Marion Jones who would later face heat for their own doping issues. Francis died in 2010 at the age of 61. Ben Johnson was a pallbearer at his funeral. Dr. Astaphan would continue to face doping and drug trafficking issues for years after the scandal. After a release from a US prison in 1996, he would return to St. Kitts where he practiced medicine until his death in 2006.

Angella Issajenko released a tell-all just two years after Johnson’s disqualification telling her story of how she got into sports and doping. She would later become a teaching assistant and a track coach. Desai Williams now works as a speed coach for the Toronto Argonauts football team and currently trains Olympic track athletes as well. Mark McKoy, who was not interviewed for 9.79*, would later move to Austria in the wake of his steroid admission and subsequent two year ban. He would continue to represent Canada until 1994 and would win gold in the 110m hurdles at the 1992 Olympics. He has since returned to Toronto where he now works as a personal athletics trainer and therapist.

Ben Johnson comes across in the film as a lonely person looking for vindication. Actually he’s not that lonely as he is both a father and a grandfather. Johnson may have tested positive three times as a runner in his career but he has found success on his own as a soccer trainer. He’s trained Diego Maradona and Muammar Gadhafi’s son. He also released an autobiography of his own in 2010: Seoul To Soul.

Many Canadians had felt that this moment made Canada look like a country that dopes to win. I myself didn’t really lose faith in my country’s athletes. In fact I was at the Summer Olympics in Barcelona where Canada won eighteen medals, seven of them gold. I will admit that the Ben Johnson incident did make me suspicious when I saw the men’s 400m hurdles and a new World record set by the US’s Kevin Young. I was also in Vancouver cheering on our winter athletes too. Many want to look at the Olympic athletes as noble people who compete for the honor of their country and that Ben Johnson’s positive scarred their dignity forever. We should also remember they face pressures we ourselves will never face like the pressure to win for their country or for prize money and even face a tainted playing field. Also they face the pressure of people saying they let us down if they don’t win gold. We the fans are guilty of that too. As for Olympians, I know for a fact that there was cheating in the ancient Olympics too. In fact cheaters during the ancient Olympics would have their names engraved on a stone wall to be disgraced for eternity.

Not all was lost since that infamous moment. The Canadian Olympic Team would eventually leave Seoul with ten medals. Three of them gold. Yeah, that’s one thing I didn’t like about the film. It made Canada look like a gold medal-starved country when in fact Montreal in 1976 would eventually become the last Summer Olympics where Canada failed to win a gold medal. Canada has left every Summer Olympics since with anywhere from the one gold won in London 2012 to ten golds won in Los Angeles in 1984. Canada would begin a strong anti-doping campaign of its own. One of the athletes within the infamous Scarborough Optimist ring, hurdler Mark McCoy would win gold in the 110m hurdles in 1992. The biggest treat came the following Olympics in Atlanta where Canada could again claim the World’s Fastest Man. This time it was Donovan Bailey. Like Ben Johnson, a Jamaican Émigré. Unlike Ben Johnson, he had a natural sprinter’s build. Combine that with excellent coaching and he won the 100m dash gold in a World Record time in 9.84. It only took two Olympics for a Canadian sprinter to redeem Canada’s reputation in the eyes of the sports world. Bailey then teamed up with three other Canadian teammates for the 4*100m relay and helped to win another gold. This was a remarkable feat as this Canadian team was the first 4*100 relay team to officially defeat the American team of the gold medal. Officially meaning cause the Americans to cross the finish line after the gold medal champions. Until then, the American team lost the gold only upon disqualifications and the 1980 boycott.

9.79* is one of those documentaries I watch over and over again. I know this blog looks like a mix of a 30 For 30 Film review with talk about doping but the film did remind me about the problem of doping in sport and even make me question a lot of the runners that didn’t test positive that race and still try to pass themselves off as clean even though there’s a lot of evidence suggesting otherwise. It also makes you question the braces on Carl Lewis from 1987 to 1988. Was he on Human Growth Hormone at the time? 9.79*not only gives us answers but it still leaves us with a lot of questions.

Hard to believe that it was 25 years ago the world was in shock. Canada was especially shocked. I too was shocked in disbelief even as I was watching the news that day. We would all receive more shocking news over the years about Ben Johnson, those associated with him and even his rivals at the time. You think that people would learn from this. They may have but probably not much. I remember going on Twitter to an account about sports quotes and one uncredited quote was: “It’s better to lose on principles than to win on lies.” Sadly most young athletes don’t feel that way.

9.79: Has It Been Exactly 25 Years Ago?

Ben Johnson (right) beat Carl Lewis (left) in the heavily hyped Olympic final of the 100m dash. A shocking truth would be unraveled three days later.

Ben Johnson (6) beat Carl Lewis (3) in the heavily hyped 1988 Olympic final of the 100m. A shocking truth would be unraveled three days later.

“It’s one of those moments everyone remembered where they were when he won.”

-Toronto Star journalist Mary Ormsby

It’s funny how time passes. We always think that way whenever we remember a great moment in sports. It’s that same feel whenever we remember one of the more infamous moments in sports too. Today marks the 25th anniversary of the 1988 Olympic 100m dash final: a moment that would eventually become Canada’s most infamous moment at the Olympic Games. Any Canadian who was around at the time will remember that moment whenever you bring it up. However I was reminded of it two months ago when I saw an ESPN 30 For 30 film about it entitled 9.79* It was a film I watched repeatedly on Youtube. The film brought back a lot of memories for me but it also showed me there was more than met the eye at the time.

THE START OF IT ALL

Here in this blog I will reflect on my memories of that moment, the years leading up, the years since, and my own thoughts while watching 9.79*. I was a teenager around the time of the Ben Johnson/Carl Lewis rivalry. I was one who followed the rivalry rather closely. I still remember how it was first a case of Carl Lewis and how he matched Jesse Owens’ feat of four gold medals at the Los Angeles Games of 1984 in the same four event Jesse won gold in 1936. I knew of the Canadian named Ben Johnson who won bronze in the 100m dash during those Games. Back then, Ben Johnson’s bronze and the bronze of Canada’s 4*100 relay was good news but quiet news. Thanks to the boycott of the Eastern Bloc nations, Canada won 44 medals in Los Angeles including ten gold.

A RIVALRY IS BORN

I remember around 1985 reading about a Canadian named Ben Johnson who won a big 100m race and beat Carl Lewis along the way. Already that would catch some Canadians’ attention, including mine. A Canadian that could beat the great Carl Lewis. Attention from Canadians grew in 1986 when Ben Johnson continued his winning streak against Carl in 1986. I even remember reading of a meet Ben won with a time of 9.95 which was just .02 seconds shy of the world record. I sensed Johnson to be a possible Olympic champion in 1988 at that time and maybe a possible world record breaker.

Then came the 1987 World Championships in Rome. There are only two competitions in an Olympic sport where one can truly prove themselves the best in the world: the Olympic Games and the World Championships. It’s especially memorable not only for Ben Johnson’s win but for breaking the world record with a time of 9.83: one tenth of a second. I myself remember the World Championships of that year and CBC’s live broadcast. There was additional excitement to this showdown as Carl and Ben were assigned in side-by-side lanes which added more excitement. I was hoping to see the final live but I went away for something at the time. I don’t remember exactly what I left for. That night I saw the race at the end of a news broadcast. Before they were to show the race at the very end of the news show, the man made mention of the ‘9.83 seconds of Ben Johnson.’ I thought to myself: “9.83? That can’t be. You can’t break a 100m dash world record by a full tenth of a second. That’s too much. That has to be wind-aided.” I saw the rebroadcast of the race. I heard it was legit and I took it at face value at the time. For a year, I felt the same excitement as the rest of Canada knowing that we had the fastest man in the World. I think Ben even stole a lot of attention away from Wayne Gretzky. How often does a track athlete get more attention in Canada than a star hockey player? It made the anticipated Olympic showdown in Seoul that more exciting.

1988 AND THE BUZZ BEGINS

The Olympic showdown in Seoul was definitely something to wait for in big anticipation but it was still one year away. And a lot can happen in a year. First off was the Calgary Olympics. Canada again failed to win a gold medal. The months and weeks leading up to the Seoul Olympics would provide both excitement and drama. First there was excitement of the anticipated Johnson/Lewis duel. Then there was mention of another Canadian, Desai Williams who was also Johnson’s teammate from the Scarborough Optimists track club, being another potential threat to the field. There were the two Angelas–Bailey and Issajenko– who were both threats for the women’s 100m dash. For the record, the two Angelas did not get along well off the track. There was the CBC Olympic preview show Road To Seoul which showed the potential medalists for these Games, both Canadian and foreign in the various sports, and them telling their stories of their training, competing and their goals for the 1988 Olympics.

Then there was the drama of learning of Ben Johnson’s injury: a pulled hamstring. I didn’t learn about his injury until I was watching an Olympic preview show and it talked of Desai winning an international track meet as an injured Ben was a spectator in the stands. It left a big question mark whether Ben would heal in time for Seoul, not just for the sake of their own competition but drawing excitement and big-time attention to the Seoul Olympics. During Ben’s healing process came some more exciting news. In addition to Desai’s win, Angella Issajenko won the 100m at an international meet beating 1984 Olympic champion Evelyn Ashford of the US. The US Olympic trials also added to the excitement as Carl Lewis won the 100m in a wind-aided 9.78. Even though the time was not legit enough to be a world record, it sent a message to Ben which Ben naturally brushed aside. Another surprise moment at the US Olympic Trials was the 10.49 world record of Florence Griffith-Joyner in the 100m. It chopped more than a quarter of a second off the world record and is still questioned to this day, even though Griffith-Joyner’s autopsy results from 1998 declared nothing of steroid abuse.

Another note: I also remember one Olympic preview show talk about doping procedures and how they’re conducted. After a sporting event the athlete would produce their sample and it would be divided into two testing samples. If the first sample called the A-sample tests positive, only the athlete is notified and they are given two options. I forget what the first option was but I know the second option was reproducing a sample. If the second sample called the B-sample is positive, it’s confirmed and the necessary penalties and suspensions are carried out.

I was reminded in 9.79* of one key competition weeks before Seoul that would have a bearing on the story: the Weltklasse in Zurich. It’s funny how Zurich’s Weltklasse competition would provide a lot of key moments in the years of the Johnson/Lewis rivalry. In fact it was the 1985 Weltklasse where Ben’s first victory over Carl occurred. 1988’s Weltklasse was yet another focus of the Lewis/Johnson rivalry especially since this was Ben Johnson returning to competition since his hamstring injury. The Lewis/Johnson duel got even more attention than American sprinter Butch Reynolds breaking the 20 year-old world record in the 400m dash at that meet. I still remember CBC stopping broadcast of a soap opera at that time to show live telecast of that competition. I remember first seeing the warm ups and then seeing all of the runners shown lane-by-lane. Funny how the other sprinters who were in the same events of the Lewis/Johnson rivalry like Brit Linford Christie, American Calvin Smith and Jamaican Ray Stewart were frequently regarded by most as simply “lane-fillers” as Dennis Mitchell put it. I remember that Ben and Carl were again in opposite lanes and they both received the biggest cheers in the stadium when their names were announced. Then the run took place and Carl won with Ben third. That was Ben’s first loss to Lewis since 1985. I know it had some of us Canadian’s nervous. Hey, it was natural for us to want Ben to win in Seoul.

SEOUL 1988: THE MOMENT ARRIVES

Then came the Seoul Olympics. Sure enough the Lewis/Johnson rivalry was probably the most hyped-up rivalry before the Games. I can’t think of any other rivalry for Seoul that was more hyped-up. There were even the sentimental stories added to the hype of the rivalry. First was the constantly repeated story of Johnson being an immigrant and finding his place in track and field. As for Carl Lewis, his story was that his father died the year before and Carl put the 100m gold medal from 1984 into his coffin. He told his surprised family: “Don’t worry. I’ll win another.”

Even before the final, there was drama in the preliminary races. First was the quarterfinal Johnson ran in. Johnson finished third and with there being six quarterfinals, the Top 2 automatically qualified for the semi while the last four qualifiers would be the four fastest of those that finished between 3rd and 6th. Ben ran the first quarterfinal and would have to wait until all six were run to know if he qualified. You could bet it was an agonizing time not just for Ben but for Canada too. Even after it was clear Ben’s time was fast enough to qualify, many of us Canadians including myself were still nervous. After seven days of Olympic competition, Canada was still waiting for its first medal of any color at these Games and we didn’t know what to expect from Ben the next day. As for Carl, he not only won his quarterfinal easily but was the only one to run it under 10 seconds. Anyways Ben and Canada could breathe a sigh of relief in the semis the next day as Ben won his semifinal. However Carl also won his semi and just like in the quarterfinals, he was the only one to run it under ten seconds. The heavily-anticipated Lewis/Johnson rivalry in Seoul would finally be a reality in the final but the world would then have to wait an hour and a half for it to start.

THE FINAL: THE HYPE IS NOW A REALITY

I remember where I was during that exact moment too. It was a Saturday afternoon in Seoul when the event happened which meant because of the time difference, live broadcast took place late evening on a Friday for us Canadians. I don’t remember exactly too much about what I saw before the race started. I remember that my mother, my sister and I gathered around the television set. My father was at work doing overtime. Talk about hard luck that day. I remember the lane-by-lane rundown of all the finalists. I knew all their names but 9.79* reminded me of which runner was in which lane. I never forgot Carl was in Lane 3 and Ben was in Lane 6. I was also reminded by 9.79* of the starter and how he said “Take your marks” and “Set” in Korean. The film has made the memory hard to forget since.

Then the start. Surprisingly there was not a single false start beforehand: just one bang and it started. Then the race: I could remember Ben in the lead right at the start of the gun. All of us were glued to the television set in both excitement and nervousness. Once Ben crossed the finish line, we all jumped up and cheered loudly in celebration. I was also stunned to see the world record from Rome broken. My father even called from work as he heard it on the radio while working. I remember he asked me: “Did you see it?” in excitement. I remember going into a conversation though I forgot all we talked about. The following night I went to a party. We were all drinking and dancing. I remember one guy saying “Yeah! Ben Johnson!” Euphoria continued on the Sunday as well as relief that we were now winning more medals in other events.

THE TRUTH IS UNRAVELED

Then the bombshell. Everybody may remember where they were when they were when the final was contested and I’m sure most, if not everybody, may remember where they were when they heard the shocking news. I remember where I was when I received the first hint. It was late Monday afternoon and I returned home from school. My mother came and said: “I heard some bad news.” I didn’t know what she was talking about. Then she said: “There’s news of a positive drug test and they think it’s Ben Johnson.” I was surprised but I thought to myself; “It can’t be.” I then turned on the television. Within time I learned that it was true. Ben Johnson had tested positive for the anabolic steroid stanozolol. I believe at first I didn’t want to believe it. However it was there on the television right in front of my face.

I remember switching between the channels showing Olympic coverage that evening. It was all the same. Both CBC channels, the English and French-language ones, had the story. Even NBC was showing it. I also remember CBC’s live broadcast from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Main Press Centre. It first started with an official announcing the sanctions to Ben: disqualification which included being stripped of his gold and a two-year ban from competition. It was followed by Alexandre de Merode, head of the IOC Medical Commission, being asked questions in various languages and responding in French. I was flicking between the three channels at that time. One station returned attention to the Olympic competition with the start of the men’s road race in cycling. Very ironically, it was won by Olaf Ludwig of East Germany. You’ll what I mean by ‘very ironically’ in my follow-up blog three days from now. That day did have some redeeming competition moments like Greg Louganis completing diving’s double-double of gold medals by winning platform diving and Canadian sailor Lawrence Lemieux receiving a porcelain box from the IOC for saving the life of a Singaporean sailor in danger of drowning days earlier.

The aftermath was ugly. I remember Ben’s sister constantly saying: “No! No! He would never do anything like this!” I remember many people were saying it’s possible to be sabotage. I remember news footage of Ben making his way to the Seoul airport and Ben’s arrival in Toronto.  Both times he was met by news people that were both hungry and hostile. I remember hearing of all the professional companies that endorsed Ben Johnson including Diadora withdrawing their endorsements to him almost immediately. Most Canadian athletes tried to compete without letting the news affect their own performances. The Canadian team would leave Seoul with a total of ten medals, three of them gold. The Canadian track team struggled to compete in the wake of that debacle. Canada’s only legit medal in Track and Field was decathlete David Steen’s bronze. The sprinters just fell apart. Canada was medal favorites in both 4*100m relays but the scandal just caused the sprinters to fall apart. The women’s team failed to qualify for the final and the men’s team could only muster 7th.

Outside of Olympic competition, I remember a lot of news stories continuing. I remember Ben publicly declaring he had never knowingly taken steroids. Charlie Francis added to the alleged insistence of sabotage. But Angella held nothing back when she returned back to Canada. She declared that Ben took steroids and he knew about it. I remember news talk about Charlie’s team doctor Jamie Astaphan. I don’t remember of any mention of Dr. Astaphan before the news of the positive. If there was any, it may have been footnotes. After the news of the positive, you can bet there was focus on him. All this would pave way to an inquiry to get answers. Did Ben knowingly take steroids? Or was it sabotage? Who else was involved?

On a comedic note, I remember watching the first Saturday Night Live of that season. There was the Weekend Report with Dennis Miller and he did some post-Olympic humor. First was of the American Joyner family. The second was on Ben Johnson. You’d figure SNL wouldn’t dare miss a chance on this. And they delivered as they had a segment where Ben inspired the All-Drug Olympics. The competition was held naturally in Bogota, Colombia and there was ‘live footage’ of a Soviet weightlifter attempting to lift a huge weight. The sportscaster detailed all the drugs the lifter took and said: “but it’s legit, actually it’s enouraged, here at the All-Drug Olympics.” The lifter didn’t just simply fail in his lift but his arms fell off, leading him bleeding from the joints. Miller ended the segment cracking: “With the Games half-over, Canada leads in total medals.” Further cracks from SNL on Ben Johnson would continue over the episodes which would piss my teenage sister off a lot. I don’t think she got it at the time but the reason why Ben Johnson and Canada got a lot of pot shots on SNL was because creator-writer Lorne Michaels is Canadian.

AN INQUIRY GETS TO THE BOTTOM OF THIS

The Canadian government set up an official inquiry at the start of 1989 to get the answers on Ben’s positive results. The inquiry would be conducted by chief justice Charles Dubin and would be officially known as the Dubin Inquiry. The Inquiry turned out to expose more than just the answers to the Ben Johnson scandal. In fact I remember one of the athletes testifying one month before Charlie Francis was a Canadian weightlifter who had nothing to do with the Ben Johnson scandal. Even some doctors involved in outside doping cases were interviewed. Shows that the inquiry was more than about getting answers to a positive drug test at the Olympics.

In March 1989, almost five months since the test results were made public, Charlie Francis took the stand to testify. He admitted that he gave steroids to his athletes and that Ben knew all along that he was taking them. He even said that steroids gave a one-meter advantage in an event like the 100m dash. Simultaneously I remember reading that Desai Williams, who was preparing for a track meet in Europe, confessed his own participation in taking the steroids given by Charlie Francis. His reason: “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” I also remember Carl Lewis’ reaction in response. He declared Ben: “a liar and a cheat. At least I have the world record by a clean athlete.” Angella Isajenko testified the following week. She even went as far as bringing her diary where she documented her steroid intake since 1979. I never saw live broadcast of the inquiry or even news coverage of that event. I did however read about it in the local newspaper. That’s the most I remember of that, and the tears she shed for her teammates the following day.

There was one athlete not directly connected to the Ben Johnson scandal that caught my attention. It was Canadian sprinter Tony Sharpe. He competed at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 and qualified for the 100m dash final and would run as part of Canada’s bronze medal-winning 4*100m relay team. He stated in his testimony that steroid abuse gave him physical complications and would eventually lead to his premature retirement from the sport back in 1985. Serves as a reminder that for all the physical advantages steroids give, they also cause a lot of physical problems too.

Funny thing is right when the Dubin Inquiry was happening, an American sprinter named Darrell Robinson said he saw Carl Lewis and Florence Griffith-Joyner purchase vials of steroids. I remember that story quite well. I also remember reading in Sports Illustrated that Robinson and Griffith-Joyner, who retired shortly after Seoul, were both interviewed on the Today show where Griffith-Joyner called Robinson a ‘lying lunatic.’ Robinson responded: “The truth will come out.” I remember hearing many stories about Carl threatening to sue Robinson but I don’t think it ever came about. I never did learn the end result.

Back to the Dubin Inquiry, Dr. Astaphan finally testified. He admitted of all the steroids he gave to Charlie Francis and his athletes but the biggest shocker is that he gave some steroidic medicines that were veterinarian medicines: not meant for humans! I also remember him talking frequently of Winstrol. The bizarre thing I remember about this was that after he talked of all that he administered, he said he was keeping in line with the Hippocratic Oath he swore under. Funny. Since when did giving athletes performance enhancing drugs become in allegiance with the Hippocratic Oath?

The crazy thing about this is that with every athlete or professional connected to the Ben Johnson scandal giving testimony, it made me more and more impatient in waiting for Ben himself to testify. Ben finally testified in June. I remember on that day, someone in my family was watching something else on television. It was the only television in the house at the time. I then turned on the radio and I could hear Ben Johnson examined by the justice. Later on he would admit to taking them. When asked why he said he never knowingly took them upon arriving home, he said it was because he was tired and frustrated from all that was happening. He also told the youth of Canada not to take steroids. Funny thing is even after Ben Johnson had completed his testimony, there were still people and doctors that testified some time after. Also I remember just shortly after Johnson’s testimony, Geraldo Rivera did a show about steroids on his talk show Geraldo. I remember at the conclusion of the inquiry, Justice Charles Dubin stated his conclusions and verdicts. He also blamed the cutthroat competitiveness of competitive sports and even things like the Olympic Games and high-payout athletic endorsements for the rampant use of steroids.

THE AFTERMATH

There were additional penalties after the Dubin Inquiry.  Both Desai and Angella were banned from competition for two years and were stripped of all their records. They would retire in that time. Other Canadian runners such as Mark McCoy who didn’t run his relay leg in Seoul in the wake of the scandal also received a two year ban. Charlie Francis would soon be banned from coaching for life. He appeared to have come clean after he admitted giving his athletes steroids. However he’d be disgraced again when he announced that he’d continue giving his athletes steroids. Once that was made public, he was banned for life. Ben Johnson’s world record from the 1987 World Championships was also stripped from the record books. The new record was the 9.92 run by Carl Lewis in Seoul. Ben was however allowed to keep both of his Olympic bronzes from Los Angeles. Desai and Angella were allowed to keep their 1984 Olympic medals too.

There are some interesting footnotes. One is that there were three books released in a matter of two years since that were either about the scandal or made mention of the scandal. The most notable was Carl Lewis’ autobiography Inside Track released late in 1990. In that same time period Charlie Francis released his book Speed Traps. However the biggest one for me was Angella Issajenko and her book Running Risks which was released around the same time as Inside Track. I remember she even had a radio interview on a Winnipeg station while promoting her book. She made mention of a meet where Canada’s senior women’s relay team finished behind East Germany’s junior relay team. That’s when she made the decision to go on steroids. She also said she believed the world has learned nothing from this. I admire Angella for most telling it like it was.

For years after Seoul, there was the big question about Ben Johnson running again. For a long time, the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) was saying he can’t run for Canada again. Jamaica said they didn’t want him back. That changed when Carol Anne Letheren was made head of the COC. Johnson was allowed to compete for Canada again. I even remember a news story of Ben Johnson with his new coach in 1990.  Ben’s comeback began at an indoor meet in the winter of 1991. I remember tracing Ben’s comeback attempt at the time.  Upon returning, Ben looked less bulky since Seoul. Ben lost the race by a close margin. Ben would continue competing. However reality sunk in when there was a meet in France which was to be the first Johnson/Lewis rivalry since Seoul. It was actually won by American Dennis Mitchell. Carl Lewis finished second and Ben finished eighth and last. I was really hoping for Ben to come back from this and I was starting to lose hope in him. Further hope was lost when I learned he finished fourth at the World Championship Trials. His only berth at the Worlds came on the men’s relay. For the record, Canada had a new national fastest man: Bruny Surin. Ben was still persistent. He would qualify for the 100m dash at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona while Carl Lewis was ill at the US Olympic Trials and missed qualifying. Johnson only got as far as the semifinals in Barcelona. At that time I sensed some hope for Ben in the future.

Unfortunately the Barcelona Olympics would be the last major competition Ben would appear in. Months later, he allegedly failed another drug test. This time he was banned for life. I was shocked myself because I wanted to see him come back a winner. He protested his innocence but declined to fight the charge since he was nearing the end of his career. He did fight the charges five years later and won only to test positive again in 1999. By then, I just shrugged it off. I didn’t have to worry. Canada already had a new World’s Fastest Man in Donovan Bailey and he never failed a doping test. It was obvious that steroids made Ben.

So there you go. Those are my memories of the final in Seoul and what happened in the years leading to it and the years leading since. If I wouldn’t have seen that film 9.79*, I wouldn’t have remembered that today’s the 25th Anniversary of that moment. My how time flies. Anyways you heard my thoughts on the big moment today. I also posted my thoughts on doping in sport on Friday.