Archive for March, 2010

Hi gang:

It’s  Monday March 1 2010, and like millions of people across Canada and beyond, I am now going through “Olympic Withdrawal” – an epidemic that hits us for a few days after each Games comes to a close, whether it’s the Winter edition  or their Summer counterpart. Last night, the 21st  Winter Olympics ended out in Vancouver, capped by one last golden moment for Canada, a gold medal in perhaps that most “Canadian” of all sports – hockey. More about that later on!

Before we really get going here, I think it’s interesting that Canada hosted the 21st Winter Olympics. Because we also hosted the 21st Summer Olympics back in my hometown of Montreal in 1976. I don’t think it got mentioned very much, but I think it’s rather neat that we hosted both “21’s”. It’s not the first time this has happened, where the same country has hosted the same “numbered” Olympics on both the Winter and Summer sides,  nor will it be the last. Indeed, Moscow hosted the 22nd Summer Olympics in 1980. Four years from now, in the winter of 2014, the Games come to Sochi, a resort town on Russia’s Black Sea. While the old Soviet Union may no longer exist, Sochi and Moscow are both in Russia. So the “numbered Olympics” thing still works.

So now that the Vancouver Winter Olympics are over, I wanted to share with all of you some random thoughts about the Games, what these past 17 days meant to me, and other reactions in no particular order of priority. Here we go!:

I must start by saying that I have never been prouder to be a Canadian, or more proud of my “home and native land” than I am today. It has been an amazing run, and the Games filled us all with joy, wonder and every other emotion one can imagine.  Whether Canada will ever be the same again is open to debate. Have these Games changed our national “psyche” permanently and made us walk a little prouder, with a swagger in our step, all the while singing “O Canada” at the top of our lungs and waving our Maple Leaf flag proudly, or is this just a blip on the radar and within a few weeks or months it will be over? Who knows – we’ll just have to wait and see.

Having said that, it was not the smoothest of starts. First, we had the tragic death of Nodar Kumaritashvili, a member of the Georgian Olympic team on the Whistler luge run just hours before the opening ceremonies. Then,  a technical malfunction when one part of the cauldron failed to lift from the stadium floor at the climactic moment of those same ceremonies. And if that wasn’t enough, some problems at the speedskating oval, located in suburban Richmond, when one of the ice-resurfacing machines (can we call them “Zambonis” if it’s really from a competitor?) failed to operate properly and led to a long delay while the ice was being repaired. Didn’t look good for us, and it didn’t help when some of the world’s media started to call it “The Glitch Games”, not to mention  some other not-so-nice jabs taken at our country.

Then there was the weather. I still find it rather amusing that in a country such as Canada, which prides itself on being the “Great White North”, the land that embraces winter and relishes it like few other countries on the planet, that the Winter Olympic Games took place in the one part of Canada where winter is a foreign element. Vancouver is a city where the flowers start to bloom in February, where the thermometer rarely dips more than a couple of degrees below zero Celsius.  For most Canadians, lots of snow and cold are just an average part of a typical winter. In Vancouver, it doesn’t take much more than a light dusting of the white stuff to bring the city to a halt.

As one might have expected, it got so warm and so “un-winter” in the Vancouver area in the days just prior to the Games that organizers had to truck in snow from far and wide to several venues, in particular to Cypress Mountain, located within sight of the downtown Vancouver skyline, and the home of many of the skiing events. They even used “ice” technology and other methods to harden the snow and prevent it from melting in temperatures which during the Games somtimes even reached into double digits Celsius.

But the episode at the Richmond oval proved to be the last major “glitch” issue, and before long the Games were back on track, and in the end proved to be an overwhelming success, providing lasting memories for millions (if not billions) of people around the world. Even the weather eventually co-operated with many sunny and pleasant days while the Games were on, thus allowing the world to see one of the world’s most beautiful cities at its best.

It could be said that the shaky technical start was mirrored by the host country’s team. There were tremendous expectations on our Canadian athletes to perform. And it didn’t help that we carried this national “angst” because to date Canada had been the only host country never to win a gold medal on home soil. Not in Montreal during the 1976 Summer Games, and we were also shut out in Calgary during the 1988 Winter Games.  One had to wonder when a number of the Canadian “favourites” to win gold failed to do so – even though some of them, like Melissa Hollingsworth (a skeleton racer) came into the Games as world champions in their respective sports. Would this happen again, or would it be third time lucky? And of course, everyone had their opinions on who that first gold medallist would be. Wouldn’t surprise me  if some of the casinos were even taking odds on it all!

The pressure was immense, and one of my lasting images from the early days of the Games was Hollingsworth’s tearful and heartfelt statement after she finished out of the medals, saying in part that she felt she had let Canada down. She hadn’t, of course. We all applauded her and the others for doing their absolute best, all the while knowing that sometimes even world champions can come up short. But in those emotional moments immediately following her performance on the skeleton track, one couldn’t blame her for feeling that way.

The “drought” finally ended on the evening of Valentine’s Day, when Alexandre Bilodeau won the first gold medal on the ski hills of the aforementioned Cypress Mountain. As I noted in another blog entry, it’s interesting that the first gold medallist was born in Montreal (the home of the first Canadian-hosted Olympics) in 1988 (the year of the second one).

 Little did we know that Bilodeau’s golden moment would be the first of many gold medals – 14 in fact.  Am I the only one who finds it ironic that the only country that had never won a gold medal at home wound up setting the record not only for the most gold medals won by a host country at a Winter Games (breaking the previous record of 10 most recently set in 2002 by the Americans at Salt Lake City), but also the most gold medals ever won by a single country at a Winter Games? Wow!

I could write pages and pages more about the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, but let me finish off with some final thoughts.

First, if anyone from Vancouver ever reads these words – and in particular those who had some involvement with the Games, my sincere congratulations. You all did an amazing and fantastic job, not just in the seven years since the Games were awarded to Vancouver in July 2003, but for many years before when it was all just a dream that led to much more.

It was also fantastic that the Vancouver organizers made a point of stressing that this was not just a Games for Vancouver, or even for British Columbia. Instead, they went to great lengths to ensure that all of Canada took part and played an active role. As one example, witness the incredible Torch Relay that I briefly talked about here in an earlier blog entry – to my knowledge the longest Relay in Olympic history, stretching from BC to Newfoundland and back again. Just thinking about the logistics of carrying the Olympic Flame not just once across our country but twice, is nearly mind-blogging. But they did all that and much more. Witness the involvement of our First Nations peooples – another admirable step. And the range of Canadians from all walks of life who got involved. Whether it was celebrities like Donald Sutherland, Anne Murray or Wayne Gretzky at the opening ceremonies to others such as Neil Young, William Shatner or Michael J. Fox at the closing, to everyone in between, we showed the world our best.

And what better ending to the competitions themselves than for Canada to win the gold medal in men’s hockey – the final event. The first time since the famous Lake Placid “Miracle on Ice” that the host country’s men’s hockey team had done the deed. Only the third time in Olympic men’s hockey history and the first time other than the USA.  A game for the ages that went back and forth, played with an unsurpassed skill level by supremely talented players on both sides. Filled with suspense and tension that you could cut with a skate blade or a hockey stick. Ending with an overtime goal from superstar Sidney Crosby that for younger Canadians may come to mean for them what Paul Henderson’s winning goal in the 1972 Canada-Soviet Union series, or Mario Lemieux’s tally to end the 1987 Canada Cup right here in Hamilton (yeah!!!) meant to their forebearers such as yours truly. Yes, it was that special. Another one of those “where were you when…” moments that will be remembered for a long long time.

Now under the “I’m gonna get letters” category, it is worth briefly noting that I wasn’t crazy about everything during the Games. I noted in an earlier blog that I didn’t care much for how “O Canada” was done at the opening ceremonies. And I soon get bored with and tired of the incessant commercials on television, seeing the same ones over and over again.

And with apologies to those of you who loved it, I must also confess that if I ever hear that “I Believe” song again, I just might scream. I’m still not really sure what it was that we were all supposed to “believe” in.  To me, the whole thing was just too cornball, too syrupy and too fluffy. I suppose it’s the whole “we’re all just one big happy global family” shtick.  Isn’t the world a wonderful place? Can’t we all just hold hands, sing Kumbaya, and give the planet a great big group hug?  And after that, we’re going to serve milk and cookies, put on our jammies and have a collective afternoon nap.

Some of you may tell me that I have it all wrong, but I guess I am too much of a realist to go for all that stuff.  To me, that’s what the “I Believe” song was.  It doesn’t paint a picture of the world as it really is. And what started off with the  images I noted above, really got annoying to me after a while. You heard at least an instrumental version of the song prior to every commercial break on the television coverage – several times a day. It was all just a bit too much for this observer. I have nothing against the people who wrote “I Believe”, and I have a great admiration for Nicki Yanofsky, the teenaged singer from Montreal who has a very bright future ahead of her. Sad to say, however, but that song has gotta go folks!

And I will also concede that in some respects I am not sorry to see the Games end because perhaps now all the hype and publicity leading up to Vancouver will start to wind down. I suppose one disadavantage to being the host country is that during the years leading up to the Games (and in particular as those years turn to months, then weeks and finally days), it’s impossible to go anywhere without knowing about the Olympics. Many companies supply the official “this” or “that” product. Commercials shout at you about all things Olympic from television, radio, online and in every other medium you can imagine. It’s all over the news too. I must admit that at times I suffered from “Olympic fatigue” even months before it all got started.

Let’s close on a positive note. Yes, the above “things” did indeed drive me nuts, but these elements were more than outweighed by the positives. And in spite of what I wrote in the most recent paragraphs here, I hope this comes through in the overall tone of this blog entry.

As the Olympic “family” now puts Vancouver in its rear-view mirror, as everyone leaves Canada to head back home and we now start the run-up for the 2012 Summer Games in London, all of Canada can be very proud of what we have done. I think the world likes us a whole lot more than they did back on February 12 when things got underway – or at least we Canadians sure hope so. My heartfelt applause and warmest congratulations to everyone responsible for these Games. To the VANOC organizing committee in particular. And to everyone across Canada and in particular those in Vancouver and in BC, I salute you and thank you all.

The Flame has been extinguished. The cheering crowds are silent. The last medal has been awarded. How appropriate that the final national anthem played at a gold medal victory ceremony was indeed that of the host country. O Canada!!! And I’ll wager that on this “day after”, the busiest place in the world just might be Vancouver International Airport, as people from across the globe now scramble for flights back home.

Whether you’re an International Olympic Committee member, an athlete, an official, a spectator who cheered on the youth of the world, or you played any other role in Vancouver over the past 17 days – thanks for coming to visit our country.  Safe home, everyone. We hope you’ll taking your own small part of Canada home with you. And be sure to come back and see us sometime. Although as Catherine O’Hara stated during last night’s closing ceremony – just not all at once.

Finally, all of Canada and the world offers our heartfelt condolences to the Georgian people upon the death of Nodar Kumaritashvili, the luge athlete who was killed on the Whistler track mere hours before the opening ceremony. May that young man rest in peace, and may God provide comfort and solace to all who mourn his death.

Signing off now – a proud Canadian who like the rest of my country will be on an Olympic high for a while now. And hopes he doesn’t come back to earth with a thud when reality strikes!

Until next time: -)

Time for a brief epilogue on this one. It is now August 2012, and two and a half years have now passed since the Flame was extinguished in Vancouver. Now a new Flame is burning bright over the Olympics, this one is coming from London and the 2012 Summer Games which are nearing the end of its first week as I type this. But in the spirit of “plus ca change…”, the television coverage is not all that different from Vancouver 2010. Maybe it’s because the same media consortium, led by CTV but also including outlets such as TSN, Rogers Sportsnet and OLN is providing the coverage. And sad to say, but that awful “I Believe” song is back again. Every time I know it is about to come on, I can’t reach for the remote fast enough, either to press the Mute button, or to switch to another channel. I think the song is really starting to get on people’s nerves. As evidence, here’s an article from a recent edition of the Toronto Sun, which argues the same thing. If it is any consolation, we just might get our wish for at least the next couple of Games (the Winter ones in Sochi, Russia in 2014 and the Summer Games in Rio in 2016) because a major announcement earlier this week indicated that the Games will return to CBC television . I’m normally not a huge CBC fan, but this time I congratulate them and wish them well. And if they give the “I Believe” song a proper burial, I will be leading the cheers.

That’s all for now. See you all again soon!

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