It’s hard to explain exactly why the now-ending XXI Winter Olympics has been a banner event to all of Canada. It’s hard to explain why the international criticism from the United Kingdom and some from the United States bounce off our hides. It’s hard to explain why six billion dollars feel well spent when they probably all weren’t.
This country hasn’t had something to make it Canadian in a long time. If you’re an older Canadian, you remember the 1972 Summit Series. If you’re in your 30s, you remember the 1989 Canada Cup in Hamilton. There was that 2002 Olympic gold in Salt Lake. But nothing on this stage.
The 1976 Summer Olympics was a disaster. The 1988 Calgary Olympics were well received but overall a disappointment. We’ve never seen a sporting event in Canada with both the scope and the success as the 2010 Winter Olympics, at least not since 1972 (which will probably always be the seminal moment in Canadian sporting history). But it’s not just about the medal count.
It’s about the country.
It’s about a nation that mourned with Georgia as we confirmed the loss of Nodar Kumaritashvili in a terrible luge accident.
It’s about a nation that embraced our bloody-handed past and welcomed our First Nations people as equals at the beginning and at the end of the game.
It’s about a nation that wept in joy watching Alexandre Bilodeau embrace his older brother Frederic, who has cerebral palsy, watching two men share a dream come true, and watching a horrible affliction turned inspiration.
It’s about a country that watched Jon Montgomery’s classic celebration through the streets of Whistler with a gold medal and a pitcher of beer, and lifted our glasses to join him.
It’s about a country that sighed collectively with disappointment when we lost 5-3.
It’s about a country that cried when Joannie Rochette claimed bronze in ladies’ singles figure skating when her mother died on the eve of her heartfelt and heartbreaking performance.
It’s about a country that bid farewell to Clara Hughes and welcomed Jonathan Toews.
It’s about a country that cursed a failed shot and celebrated with a successful one on the curling rink.
It’s about a country that shared in the love of Charles Hamelin and Marianne St-Gelais as he celebrated her silver medal win with her; and she celebrated his golds with him.
It’s about a country, 34 million strong, that screamed in joy and ecstasy when Sidney Crosby scored in overtime.
We see ourselves in these achievements. We see ourselves inspired by Frederic Bilodeau. We know the pressure that was felt by Cheryl Bernard, and know we sometimes fail. We know the heartbreak of Joannie Rochette, who lost someone so dear to her, but yet honoured her with beauty and grace by holding her head high. We know what it’s like to fire the puck in overtime, whether or not it is in our minds, or on the stick in our hands.
We are Sidney Crosby. And Wayne Gretzky. And Catriona Le May Doan. We are Jonathan Toews and Cindy Klassen and Rick Hansen. We’re Meghan Agosta and Maelle Ricker and Frederic Bilodeau. We’re me, and you, and my family, and my friends. We’ve remembered that it’s possible, francais et anglais, West and East, to hurt and fight, live and love together. We’re Canadian, unique, e pluribus unum (if I may steal a phrase), and we love it, love this country, love this place.
Forgive the patriotism, but I feel that this sometimes dysfunctional, self-hating place has grown up a tiny bit…grown up and remembered what it is to be young.