Tuesday, March 02, 2010

GOLD RUSH 2010: Olympic Memories

There will be seventeen days in February of 2010 that I will always remember: The 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Maybe it was because it was in Canada. Maybe it was because Mom & Dad got a new flat screen just in time to watch the Games. Maybe it was because there were so many HOT Canadian men competing. I'm not sure what the main drawing card was. But this is the first time I remember being so in love with the Olympics. Enjoying them so much - immersing myself in them so completely - that it was truly a bittersweet, tearful moment when the torch was snuffed out Sunday night while Neil Young played "Long May You Run".

Seventeen days of watching the best in the world compete. Seventeen days of watching the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Seventeen days of watching our country unite and display wild and thrilling patriotism like never before.
But at the beginning, there were doubts that this Olympics would go down as a success. In fact, early reports were that it was destined to be a complete failure.

On Day 1, even before the Opening Ceremonies began, the tragic news broke of a horrific accident on the luge track which claimed the life of Georgian Luger Nodar Kumaritashvili. The Opening Ceremonies were tarnished by a "hydraulic malfunction" when one arm of the Olympic Torch failed to rise from the floor, leaving Catriona Le May Doan, as one of the torch lighters, hanging with nothing to do. And then the rain began - not usually helpful at an event requiring lots of snow - causing delays and terrible conditions on the ski hills of Whistler.
Initial reviews of the Vancouver Games were not good. It was embarassing.

But as Canadians, we found the Silver lining...and then the Gold. Jen Heil kicked things off with our first medal, a silver, in the women's freestyle moguls. The following day, Alexandre Bilodeau did her one better in the men's event and catapaulted himself into superstardom in this country by being the first Canadian athlete to ever win Gold on home soil. The whole country cheered right along with his older brother and biggest fan Fredric, who suffers from cerebral palsy. I'll never forget seeing the images of Fredric leaping to his feet when Alex's golden score was revealed. It was a beautiful moment.

However, as the first week continued, there were more let-downs than victories. Canadians that were expected to medal in their events were failing to do so, and the much-hyped Own the Podium campaign was gradually being declared a bust. The Americans were the ones owning the medal standings, and Canada had dropped to 5th place.

Perhaps one of the most devestating moments to watch during Week 1 was Melissa Hollingsworth, one of the favourites to hit the podium in Women's Skeleton racing, following her unsuccessful final run. She had been in 2nd place after her 3rd run, but then a few mistakes in her final heat dropped to 5th place, clearly a huge disappointment for her. When they interviewed her live afterwards, tears running down her cheeks, she apologized to her country for failing them. I have never wanted so badly to reach into the TV and hug someone. If I could have said anything to Melissa at that moment, I would've told her this: You did not fail us. You jump on a sled and fly down an icy track - head-first - for your country. You are brave, you are amazing, and you are a hero.

That same night, devestation was transformed to joy, and Canada found itself another icon: Men's Skeleton racer Jon Montgomery. Running second going into his final heat, Jon burnt up the track of ice and brought home another Gold medal for Canada. After his win, he famously strolled the streets of Whistler Village, celebrating with his fans, chugging a pitcher of beer, and winning the hearts of Canadians with his goofy charm and good looks. An indication of Jon Montgomery's popularity? He even made it to Oprah! (And he also became the first member of my Hall of Hot Olympic Men.)

Then came Super Sunday. A full week into the games, Canada had taken the opportunity to cheer whenever possible, but still we seemed bogged down by negativity from around the world. And Super Sunday didn't help build our morale. That night, the Canadian Men's Hockey team faced their biggest adversary to date in the round-robin: Team USA. Bolstered by the hot play of goaltender Ryan Miller, the American Men trounced the Canadians 5-3, and our already-fragile psyche took a beating with them. Highly anticipated to win gold, suddenly the men were facing a long, uphill battle - it would take 4 straight wins to earn them that coveted prize. Not impossible...but difficult to do.

Compounding the sadness of that loss was another one, much greater, as news broke that Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette's mother had passed away from a heart attack, only hours after arriving in Vancouver to cheer on her daughter. She was only 55 years old. No one could expect Joannie to go on after such devestation, and no one would have forced her.

However, Joannie became one of the greatest inspirations of these games, making the choice to continue on and perform in honour of her mom. The medal was no longer important. She was doing this for herself and for her family, in memory of her biggest supporter.

Two days after losing her mother, Joannie performed her short program with the love from her country pouring out, and she remarkably placed third in a flawless skate. When she broke into tears as the music stopped, there was not a dry eye in the place - not a dry eye in Canada. Then, two days later, she capped off her incredible story with another strong skate, earning her a place on the podium and a Bronze medal. Is it any wonder this amazing girl was chosen as a joint recipient of the Terry Fox Award, as well as being appointed Canada's flag bearer at the Closing Ceremonies? Truly remarkable. Simply amazing.

On the wings of Joannie's courageous performance, our country finally began to flourish. With the Own the Podium campaign already declared a failure, the pressure was off...and suddenly, it appeared Canada was, indeed, "owning the podium" - on the most important step. GOLD. We took Gold in Women's 2-person Bobsled (and Silver as well), Gold in Women's Hockey, Gold for Ashley McIvor in Women's Ski-Cross, Gold for Maelle Ricker in Women's Snowboard Cross, Gold for Christine Nesbitt in Speedskating, Gold for Scott Moir & Tessa Virtue in Ice Dance, Gold in Men's Team Pursuit Speedskating, Gold in Men's Relay Speedskating.

The Gold Rush was on!

Amidst the Gold, though, came another little disappointment which my family are still teasing me about. I had seen several features on CTV for Chris Del Bosco, a top contender for Gold in the Men's Ski-Cross, and I had fallen in love with Chris. Here was a guy who had already overcome so much, battling addictions to drugs and alcohol, beating those addictions, and now poised to become the first-ever winner of the Ski-Cross, a new event at the Olympics. Del Bosco had made it to the final run; however, closing in on the finish line in third place, he tried to push it to improve his position, and ended up crashing instead. No medal in Ski-Cross.
I was severely disappointed, as I had already made room for him in my Hall of Hot Olympic Men, alongside Jon Montgomery and my favourite from the Men's Hockey team, Jarome Iginla...

Now, what would the Games be without a little romance (aside from my Olympic crushes)? Canadians from coast-to-coast-to-coast absolutely adored the love shown between speedskaters Charles Hamelin and Marianne St-Gelais. When Marianne won silver, Charles was shown behind the scenes cheering loudly. When he won Gold a few days later, she was in the stands screaming her head off, and then she jumped down to ice-level and he leaped into her arms for a passionate embrace. They became Canada's favourite lovebirds!

Another great story was Clara Hughes, now Canada's most decorated Olympian and the flag bearer in the Opening Ceremonies, after she took Bronze in longtrack speedskating as her Olympic swan song. Hughes can claim victories in both Winter and Summer Olympics, as she also competed in cycling, and her name will go down in our country's history books as one of our best athletes ever.

I got caught up in yet another "swan song" story on Saturday, as the Olympics were winding down, when I heard that Snowboarder Jasey Jay Anderson, competing for the last time on the Olympic stage at age 34, was hoping to take home an Olympic medal for the first time. Jasey Jay is one of the most decorated snowboarders in history, but that Olympic medal had eluded him. I started watching the Snowboard Slalom early in the afternoon, and it lasted hours, with the pouring rain making it difficult to watch. I watched him move on, heat after heat, out-lasting his other Canadian competitors, until it was just down to him and Austria's Benjamin Karl. Karl got the jump in the first heat of the Gold medal run, taking a seven-tenths of a second lead on Anderson, but in the final heat, it was all Jasey Jay. With his wife and two young daughters watching on, the blueberry farmer from Mont Tremblant claimed his Gold, I found a new member for my Hall of Hot Olympic Men, and Jasey Jay wrote the perfect final chapter to his Olympic story! Awesome!

That very night, there was a bit of an Olympic battle going on in my parents' living room, as my mom was insisting we were watching the Men's Curling, with Canada hoping for Gold. However, since Curling is my least favourite sport to watch, I was arguing that we should watch the Men's 4-person Bobsled. I lost that fight. And I was so happy that I did, as I discovered yet another member for my Hall of Hot Olympic Men...Canadian curler, the absolutely dreamy John Morris!

(I was also happy that our competitors were the Norwegians, and I finally got to see their famous Curling pants in action!)

So I watched Kevin Martin's rink bring us home yet another Gold medal, a day after the ladies won Silver, which brought us to 13 Gold medals, tying the Winter Olympics record for most Gold medals won.

That left us with one more chance at a Gold medal, a chance to break the Gold record, in the Crown Jewel event of the Winter Olympics.

Is there a single, living, breathing soul in this country who didn't want to be in Vancouver Sunday afternoon to watch our Men's hockey team, who had made it past the Germans, Russians, and Slovaks to end up in the Gold medal game in a re-match with Team USA?!

Canada took a 2-0 lead on goals from Jonathan Toews and Corey Perry, and we could taste it...the Gold...it was ours for the taking. But the Americans were not an opponent to take lightly, and they battled back. When they tied the game with less than 30 seconds left in the third period, I'm pretty sure our entire country was about to go into heart failure. (Or, as I liked to say that day, "I'm going into renal failure. I can feel it. It's renal failure." I had no idea I was talking about my kidneys.)
Overtime. And we all know anything can happen in Overtime. But I'm not sure anyone could have penned a better finale to the 2010 Winter Olympics than this:

Canada's biggest hockey icon since Wayne Gretzky, the young and formidable Sidney Crosby, scored in Overtime to win the Gold.

And with that goal, an entire nation rejoiced and celebrations broke out in the streets of our country, in our own home... everywhere...chanting Crosby's name and the now-infamous cries of "Louuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!"

At our house, that celebration was so loud, it caused the 4-year-old to cry. But he composed himself to go outside and honk car horns with the neighbours, while the chant from someone's nearby home drifted over: "CAN-A-DA! CAN-A-DA! CAN-A-DA!" And after the Gold medals had been awarded and the flag rose, my family gathered in the living room again to sing O Canada. Even Caden sang along - his favourite song.

It didn't seem fair that just a few short hours later, it was time to bid farewell to the Vancouver Olympic Games. But they did it in the Canadian way, poking fun at ourselves by having a repairman "fix" that broken hydraulic arm so that Catriona Le May Doan could finally have her moment to light the flame, just moments before it was extinguished again. There were giant hockey players and mounties and beavers and moose, a few big-name appearances by William Shatner, Catherine O'Hara, and Michael J. Fox, along with that bittersweet performance by Neil Young. Then the party broke out, with the athletes running down to the floor to enjoy some of Canada's greatest talents in Nickelback, Avril Lavigne, Alanis Morisette, Simple Plan, and Hedley.
The next day, this entire country had one giant hangover. But it was well worth it.
As Jasey Jay said earlier in the day, could we all take a vote and keep this thing going for another two weeks??
14 Gold. 7 Silver. 5 Bronze. 3rd Place in the Medal Standings.

Seventeen days of memories. And one hell of a celebration to bring it to a close.

It was absoultely...Golden.


Ashley said...

GREAT post Jill, especially the part about John Morris...mmmm...sooo yummy looking.

Jill said...

I only wish I could have found some better pics of John for you, Ashley - they're hard to come by apparently! lol

Kathleen said...

John Morris is the sex

I sang O Canada in a bar in french in the Plateau on Sunday after the men won. It was amazing. then we ran onto the street screaming LUUUUUUUUUUUUUU.

Jill said...

Kathleen: Definitely one of those games where you will one day say, "I remember where I was when Sid scored to win us Gold..." I was comparing it to the 2002 Gold game, which was one of the most thrilling hockey games I'd ever witnessed (right up there with Alfie scoring in OT to move us on to the Stanley Cup Finals in '07) - but this one was even more special, I think, because it was in OT...made the party afterwards that much better!

Kathleen said...

I don't like to exaggerate and speak in clichés but it definitely was our version of 1972. This past September I watched the entire 72 series on the actual dates the games happened and I think Crosby's goal will be up there with Henderson's. The excitement and the intensity and exhileration when Crosby scored was amazing and I'll never forget it. it brought back memories of when I was a kid and the Habs won the Cup.

Jill said...

I suppose my Blog was full of cliches - I tend to get that way when I'm excited & passionate about something - but I have to agree. For sheer excitement, the only thing I could compare Sid's goal to was the one I mentioned by Alfie. For this generation, it was our Henderson moment!