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Vancouver super-sizing medal ceremonies

- The Washington Times - Friday, February 19, 2010

VANCOUVER -- It's the moment every Olympic athlete dreams of. After winning an event, the world's best are rewarded with a gold medal. Then they hear the anthem of their home country while the flag rises in a moving ceremony that puts an exclamation point on a lifetime of hard work.

But even that moving moment is a bit different than it used to be.

While traditionally the ceremonies are held at the venue where the competition took place, the process in this year's Vancouver Olympics is a bit different.

Back in 2002, the Salt Lake organizers decided to make an event out of some of the smaller medal ceremonies. Athletes got their treasured prize in front of a bigger crowd at the event, paired with a musical act to cap off the evening.

Now, this year, Vancouver is taking that concept of a large-scale ceremony a step further, each night holding two "Victory Ceremonies" simultaneously at BC Place, home of the opening ceremonies, as well as another ceremony up the road at Whistler.

VIDEO: Lysacek skates to gold

Thursday night, fans who attended the event at BC Place got to see seven athletes get their gold medals -- including a pair of American stars -- alternating the live presentations in front of a large crowd taking up one half of the home of the opening ceremonies, to then showing a video feed of some of the skiing medals given out at Whistler. Shaun White got his gold medal for Wednesday's victory in the snowboard halfpipe in front of a large and appreciative crowd in Vancouver, who saw the U.S. star receive his medal, then watched the flag raised as "The Spangled Banner" was played. White's ceremony was shown to the crowd up the mountain on the big screen, who then got to see the gold medal for men's luge double given out live as the crowd at BC Place watched on television. Shani Davis then collected his gold medal for winning in the men's 1,000-meter speedskating competition back in Vancouver, and the process then repeated itself again with the action heading back and forth until seven golds were handed out in events ranging from snowboarding to speedskating to luge to biathlon. And once all the hardware was handed off, a concert with local band Hedley capped the evening, giving fans who attended the show at BC Place a chance to see four gold medals awarded.

It certainly puts what were once much small ceremonies on a grand scale.

Even Canadian athlete Christine Nesbitt got the loudest cheer of the night by the partisan home crowd, as she clearly mouthed "this is crazy" as thousands of flag-waving Canadians gave her a long ovation for her winning the 1,000-meter women's speedskating event. And, of course, it gives Olympic organizers another event to sell, as spectators paid between $22CDN to $50CDN to witness the ceremonies, essentially taking a bit away from what was held at the venue and packaging it with a concert at a much larger facility.

Some events will still be awarded at the site, as figure skating and hockey medals are awarded right after the competition.

But the large-scale ceremony certainly puts a different twist on one of the highlights of an athlete's career.