I’m writing this as we drive back to Seattle after having attended the closing ceremonies to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver/Whistler.
It’s been a melancholy last day and a half, saying goodbye to new friends and knowing that this wonderful gathering couldn’t last forever.
Still, I can’t imagine a better ending for Canada, or for anyone who attended the games. Not only did Canada break the curse of not having won a gold medal on home soil, it hit a new record for gold medals for a host country with 11 gold medals… and then went on to win three more!
And the best part was the 14th gold medal, the one Canada cared about the most. Today Canada won gold in the final hockey match against the United States. Vancouver burst into celebration just as we pulled into town. I rolled down the windows of our rented red minivan and high-fived several passers by. As we walked through town the good feelings were palpable.
I’ve been thinking about it for the last two weeks, and I haven’t really figured out why I’ve been rooting so much for Canada. Perhaps it’s because I remember backpacking through Europe in the late 80s, and you could always tell the Canadiana by the maple leaf on their hat or backpack. They had to let you know they were not American.
That made me aware early on of how difficult it must be to live in the shadow of such a powerful neighbor (and how frustrating it must be to lose in sports to that neighbor!).
I thought maybe I was supporting Canada simply because Whistler is so dear to our hearts. We did get married there, after all. If it’s happening in Whistler, it’s happening in our second home.
Or perhaps I was supporting Canada because they have done such a tremendous job of hosting the Olympics that the country deserves the gold medals to go along with it.
In fact, let me digress to say this: the volunteers who came from all
over Canada and elsewhere – many flying and even being housed on their own dime – were nothing short of heroes. From those who hit the mountain at 3:30am every morning for 2 weeks straight to prepare the courses for alpine skiing to those who sat for hours in the rain with loudspeakers and cheerily told spectators where to find the bus, they were unfailingly competent, committed and polite.
I have heard again and again from people who have worked at other Olympics that the 2010 Winter Games were spectacularly organized and that the volunteers were a critical piece of the success. Definitely.
But back to why I was pulling for Canada: I thought maybe it had to do with Canada’s infectious enthusiasm. As the Olympics wore on, more and more people were wearing red hockey jerseys, red toques, red scarves and red mittens.
I also figured maybe I was rooting for Canada because they were such fabulous spectators, always cheering on the last skier down the mountain or reserving their loudest applause for the athlete who crashed but then got back up again to complete the race.
But then, all the Olympics fans were amazing both at the sporting events and everywhere else they went. Several performers in Whistler told me they had never before felt so much love emanating from an audience.
Then I decided it just didn’t matter why I was rooting for Canada. I just was and now I feel very happy for them. They gave the world a wonderful gift with these Winter Olympics and, in a way, the medals they earned feel like they belong to everyone who was a part of the Olympics.
Or, as Michael J. Fox put it to us at the Closing Ceremony, when you come to Canada, you’re Canadian.