In the summer of 2003 when the 2010 Winter Olympics were awarded to Vancouver I had recently returned from a near year away. During that time I had been to Salzburg and witnessed the beauty of what appeared to be an ideal place for a Winter Olympics. Vancouver always has, and always will be the most beautiful, and amazing city to live in, in my tainted opinion, but I was a little bit skeptical about us hosting in 2010. As the years ticked down and the event approached, the skepticism gave way to ambivalence to be completely honest. As one can note, there was certainly little to no mention of the Games on this blog. Many people around me found this interesting, as sport, the culture of sport, cultural connections, and dreaming – all things intricately intertwined with the Olympics – are passions of mine. Looking back, the ambivalence grew not out of spite, disgruntelement, and certainly not out of ignorance. Instead, there was no personal connection. If anything, the aspects of youth sport and physical activity participation that I felt so connected to and involved in were being overshadowed or skewed by the approach of the Games.
On Thursday February 11th my perception changed dramatically. It must have been building before that, but – to steal an overused phrase – it was certainly the tipping point. On that morning some colleagues and I roused ourselves early, walked in the rain, and watched the Olympic Torch go through a local community. I spoke with a torch bearer who was so genuinely enthusiastic that my ambivalence quickly started to wash away. People with flags cheered, horns honked, I snapped photos like crazy, and then I stopped. I clapped, and realized that we are all choosing to do something together here.
Over the next 17 days there was cheering, there was Canada gear, there was a visit from a very close friend, there was taking youth on a special experience they’d never had before and likely never will again, there was time and laughter with my sister, there was watching the opening ceremonies in a small BC community theatre and cheering, there was enthusiastic talk with my parents and grandmother, there were friends being able to show-off their passions to a world audience, there was more cheering, there was lots of photo taking, there were so many languages, and all of a sudden there was a definite personal connection. The city I love and nearly everyone in it had decided to get behind something, and whether they knew it or not, that something was them.
I went to a knock-out round hockey game between Slovakia and Norway. The play, and the connection the Norwegians struck with the fans reminded me of what I personally miss about European hockey. It also showed that Canadians are amazing hosts, and when I jumped to my feet and thanked the Norwegians (and the Slovaks) I did so with thousands of others, and I realized that we have something here, and it’s collective.
My sister and I went to the cauldron when it was still fenced too heavily and a person in a unique position of authority, who had no business helping us, kindly took her camera and got an amazing shot for us. There were smiles, and a connection that it was okay, because afterall this was in our backyard.
I spent an amazing sunny day with an incredible friend and there was consistent statements and proof about what an amazing part of the world this is.
I was with friends downtown to watch the semi-final game vs the Slovaks. We cheered for women’s curling. We roared for gold in speed skating. Then we high-fived more people than I ever had in my life after we advanced to the final. Amongst the tens of thousands I would run into an American with a huge smile and flag and we would congratulate each other and wish for a good game on Sunday. We were all doing it.
I refound an enthusiasm and respect from my teens that I had lost, for athletes who toil away in four-year cycles of obscurity, but are people like you and I with dreams, friends, and personal connections. I was explicitly proud to be Canadian when Bilodeau was humble beyond belief in every word he said. Then when Hollingsworth felt the need to apologise I became honestly sad, and wished I could have told her personally that no one felt let down, and I was personally reminded that sometimes sport can mean too much.
On the last day of the Olympics I was in the same room that I was in when I watched the final of the 1987 Canada Cup, and with the same people. Not having been alive in ’72, that tournament in 1987 still stands above all else in my mind as an incredible moment in not only hockey history, but Canadian history, and personal history. I was so ecstatic when Lemieux scored, and remember the entire sequence of play so vividly more than 20 years later. Then, in 2010, another young Pittsburgh Penguin has the stage set for him. During the first shift Iginla and Crosby had in overtime it was obvious they were going to be the ones. During the second shift they made it happen, and like Hawerchuck’s gritty yet key little face-off win, Iginla’s gritty yet little key little pass led to Crosby’s historic goal. We all jumped and cheered just as we had done so many years ago, and we were all personally proud to be Canadian.
Yet, it would have been alright if he hadn’t scored. It would have been alright no matter what the medal count. Just like we made it an incredible two plus weeks to remember with the memories above, and so many other personal ones you and I had, we would have made it alright, and realized what is truly important. For the most part, as Canadians, we typically have. Perhaps because of that, it was so much more rewarding that it all seemed a success. It’s just important to remember that success doesn’t come from medal counts, or goals, or having the best Games, it comes from our own personal interpretations. It comes from how we feel we were treated, and how we treated each other during our experiences.
Thus, we certainly had an incredible half month of experiences, and now on the eve of the Paralympics I hope there are more to come. When I reflected on how something I was so ambivalent towards had become such a collection of amazing experiences and memories the reason for it all lay in the personal connections that I had during the Games. In the end, it seems to be another example of fortune that this wonderful city, my home, had an event which served as an excuse to do things, and create memories with people I care about. Hmmm, caring about people – I’d like to think that that’s very Canadian.
I came across this piece by Stephen Brunt, and it seemed to have some similar points, but also a bit of a different take. I might not agree with his perspective exactly, and everything in it, but I think it’s a view worth considering as well.