Oh, the Olympics. I heart you. Every two years you return to my lonely grasp, and in my desperate attempt to smile you lead me on a short-lived but memorable journey cheering on athletes I have never heard of, competing in sports I don’t comprehend.
It was a whirlwind two weeks filled with heart-breaking moments, giddy victory parties and the sheer professionalism of CTV host Brian Williams. Even though you have left my side again, it was a remarkable Olympic games. These are the notable moments that will remain long after the flame has been extinguished.
Highlight: Ignore the naysayers, Vancouver was an excellent host of the Winter Games. Venues were packed, enthusiastic fans were rabid and downtown Vancouver and Whistler were bustling with activity. Case in point: fans wanting a piece of the Olympic experience waited hours at Robson Square just for the thrill of sliding down a zipline or getting an up-close look at the Olympic medals. Hours.
Lowlight: Though Canada portrayed their best pose to the world, others countries, particularly Britain, lambasted our games. Some British scribes were quick to declare them the “worst-ever” and unintentionally made their own unofficial Olympic sport — bashing the host city. While some criticisms were valid, such as the embarrassing malfunction of the indoor Olympic cauldron, others were unfounded such as blaming Canada for the rainy weather that postponed some Cypress Mountain events. Although unusually warm weather casted a gloomy cloud over the games, how can one justify blaming Canada for the weather? When London finds a way to manipulate the weather for their summer games in 2012 — let me know.
Highlight: NBC men’s hockey analyst Eddie Olczyk, while commenting on the round robin classic between Canada and the United States, provided a classic quote of his own, “This has been tremendously tremendous.” I could not have said it better myself.
Lowlight: Keeping with the theme of hockey broadcasters saying the darndest things, NBC studio analyst Mike Milbury characterized the disappointing play of the Russian men’s team in their 7-3 loss to Canada, saying they played a “Eurotrash game.” The derogatory term was a surprise and, maybe, the first time his colleague and residential loudmouth Jeremy Roenick was caught speechless.
Highlight: Since when was curling exciting? Maybe it always was, nevertheless I was surprised when I found myself at the edge of my seat watching the strategic manoeuvres of shuffleboard on ice. It also must have caught the eye of the virgin curling supporters at the Vancouver Olympic Centre that were more fanatical than curling fans routinely are — enough so that attendees were instructed to silence themselves while the players took their shots.
Lowlight: I want to be entertained when watching women’s hockey, I really do, but the shellacking every country not named Canada or the United States faced was shameful. For instance, North American nations outscored their opponents by a combined 88-4. Now, women’s hockey is a relatively young sport — only debuting in the 1998 games in Japan — and still deserves time to grow. However every four years, the non-competitive field remains the same, rightfully giving women’s hockey officials reason to be worried about their sport’s future in the games.
Highlight: The Olympics are essentially the sports fan’s Oprah Winfrey show — an event that pulls at the heartstrings with the touching tales of an athlete’s dedication paying off. This year there was none more heart wrenching than the story of Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette. Days after her mother suddenly passed away following her arrival in Vancouver, Rochette completed two gusty skates, with the world behind her, to win the bronze medal. For her to stay composed under the circumstances requires more guts than many us of can pretend to know or I could try to explain.
Lowlight: Hours before the opening ceremonies, an unforeseen tragedy struck — the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili on a practice run. If you have not seen the video yet, do yourself a favour and don’t. Even a single picture of the unoccupied sled that remained on the track will haunt my dreams for a long time to come.
Highlight: Canadian skeleton athlete Mellisa Hollingsworth had her hopes for a medal dashed when the favourite hit the side walls. As a nation, we hung on her every turn and were heartbroken when the medal in her grasp slid away. However it broke our hearts more still to see her tear-filled confession: “I feel like I’ve let my entire country down.”
The thing is — she did not. Her and her fellow Canadian athletes brought us on an unforgettable voyage. For now, the medal count numbers matter, but years later it will be the faces that broadcasted an array of emotions that we recall. We will remember Joannie Rochette’s moving performance, the inspiration Alexandre Bilodeau received from his older brother Frédéric who has cerebral palsy, the jubilation we felt when Sidney Crosby erupted a nation with his overtime goal and the dreams that were brought to fruition for so many.
At its purest this is what the Olympics are all about. No other worldwide event can rival this unification of the human spirit and initiate the pride in this country that, maybe, has never been equalled. For me, it was an honour just to be able to share in the fulfilment of the athletes’ dreams.