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My surreal Vancouver Olympic Trip – seeing Canada win 5 Gold medals including Hockey Gold

2010 Vancouver-Whistler OlympicsI had the great fortune of being at the Vancouver|Whistler Olympics for the last 4 days of the 2010 events.  As a proud Canadian, born in Winnipeg living in Toronto for 30+ years, it was incredible to be there in person to witness so many consecutive Gold medals for Canada.  Although I was certainly never Olympic material, I played sports throughout school and thoroughly understand the competitive nature it invokes as well as the desire to compete against (and beat) the best.  The Olympics represent the best of the best athletes from all across the globe.  I was only there for the last 4 days of events, yet I was lucky enough to witness a Gold Medal for Canada at every venue we attended.

Not only did Canada finally get their first Gold medal as Olympic host country (thanks to endearing Alexandre Bilodeau) but we went on to capture 13 more Gold medals during Vancouver/Whistler 2010.  Canada set a new Winter Olympic Gold record for a single country with 14 Gold medals. You can view Canada’s record-breaking medal winners here.

If you’ll indulge me and my Canadian pride, I’d like to share my ‘golden’ moments for the events we were eyewitness to:

DAY 1 – February 25, 2010
Women’s Hockey Gold medal game – Canada vs. USA

If there was a sure thing at the 4 events we had tickets for, this was it.  I was pretty confident going in that the Canadian Women’s Olympic Hockey Team, lead by the incomparable Hayley Wickenheiser, would win Gold.

The arena was packed with an audience of Red and White Canada Hockey shirts and flags, with a few smatterings of blue for Team USA.  When the ladies hit the ice, the crowd roared and the Canadian pride swelled and swallowed the stadium.  Any Team USA chants heard were quickly silenced by loud ‘Go Canada Go’ cheers.  There was a point during the game where Michael J. Fox appeared on the big screen – he smiled and opened his jacket and pointed at the Canada Maple Leaf on his shirt and the crowd screamed with glee.  With 2 goals in the first period by Canada’s Marie-Philip Poulin, the game was scoreless in the second and third period, and our Women’s Hockey team scored Olympic Gold for Canada with a 2-0 victory over the US.  We watched our team receive their Gold medals and proudly sang O Canada for the first time just hours after we arrived at Vancouver airport.  Later that night at dinner, we were touched when we saw Canada’s brave Joannie Rochette on TV winning her much-deserved Bronze medal.

DAY 2 – February 26, 2010
Short Track Speed Skating

The Pacific Coliseum was filled with Team Canada fans and we were medal hopefuls in more than one event.  With Team USA’s multi-medalist Apolo Anton Ohno on the ice, he was always a threat.  We watched with glorious excitement as two Canadian short track skaters (Charles Hamelin, and Francois-Louis Tremblay) both qualified for the medal round in the Men’s 500m.  With only 4 skaters in the final race, Canada was guaranteed a medal and at this point you could feel the exuberance from the audience.  During that race, Hamelin was in the lead throughout but it was close until the final turn when Ohno came around the final corner and knocked Korean Si-Bak Sung on his side, taking down Canada’s Tremblay with him.  Hamelin nearly fell as well but magically managed to hang on and secured the Gold medal for Canada!  Moments later Ohno was disqualified which meant that Tremblay would get a Bronze for Canada as well.  Hamelin quickly skated over to enjoy the moment with girlfriend and fellow Team Canada Olympic medalist Marianne St-Gelais.  It was thrilling to watch these athletes skate their victory lap with a Canada flag in their hands.

The Men’s 5000m relay was next.  Canada’s short-track speed skating brothers Charles and Francois Hamelin were joined by teammates Francois-Louis Tremblay and Jean Olivier to make up their 5000m relay team.  Once again Canada was in the lead and it was another close race.  It’s seems crazy to me to think about athletes losing Gold medals by hundredths of a second, but that’s the reality of how close the races are at many of the Olympic events.  The competition is just so tough that every hundredth of a second counts.  This race was no exception but Canada was golden victorious at a time of 6:43.610 followed narrowly by Korea at 6:43.845 and the United States at 6:44.498.  We cheered at the victory ceremony when our athletes received their Gold and Bronze medals and with pride, we sang O Canada two more times with 2 more golden moments from Team Canada and an joyous Canadian audience.

DAY 3 – February 27, 2010
Long Track Speed Skating Men’s Team Pursuit – Canada vs. USA

It was another exciting day at the Richmond Oval with the Team Pursuit medal competitions.  A special shout-out to team Germany’s Anni Friesinger-Postma who stumbled throughout the final lap of their semifinal race against the Americans, trying desperately to catch up to her two teammates. Finally, coming down the last straightaway, she crashed to the ice and slid across the finish line on her belly, flailing her arms, burying her face against the ice, convinced she had cost her team a spot in the final.  She then looked up to see the Germans had still won by 0.23 seconds. Instantly, her expression of distress turned to joy.  The Women’s Team from Germany went on to win Gold for their country.

For me, I was anxious for the Men’s final as Canada’s Mathieu Giroux, Lucas Makowsky and Denny Morrison were contenders for Gold.  Once again, Canada faces USA with determination and captures gold with only a 0.21 second lead over the United States.  While we were waiting for the victory ceremony, we heard that Canada’s Jasey Jay Anderson won Gold for Snowboarding in the Parallel Giant Slalom and the audience screamed with delight.  Our Canadian men received their Gold medal and we crooned O Canada for the 4th time in 3 days.  When we got back to our room that day, we watched on TV as Skip Kevin Martin and his Curling Team brought home another Gold medal for Canada.

DAY 4 – February 28, 2010
Men’s Hockey Gold medal game – Canada vs. USA

This is the game that over 2/3’s of Canada watched.  This was the final event of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics and it couldn’t have been more exciting.  Another overwhelming crowd of hockey-lovin’/beer-drinkin’ Canadians stormed the arena and screamed as our Men’s Hockey Team hit the ice.  The atmosphere was full of hope.  In the back of everyone’s mind, we knew that Team USA was the only team to defeat us in this Olympic tournament so we’d have to be at the top of our game to win Gold.

When Jonathan Toews scored a goal almost 13 minutes into the first period, the audience erupted with ovations and cheers.  It was 1-0, still not a comfortable lead, but a lead nonetheless.  Canada’s goalie Roberto Luongo stopped every shot on net and racked up a shutout in the first period.  Just over 7 minutes into the second period, Corey Perry scored again for Team Canada.  It’s now 2-0 and the fans were elated.  Unfortunately, about 5 minutes later in the second period, the decibel level dropped in the arena as Ryan Kessler scores for Team USA.  In the 3rd period Luongo continues to make great saves for Team Canada as does Ryan Miller for Team USA.  No goals are scored.  Then with less than a minute and a half left in the third period, Team USA pulls the goalie (Miller) to get a power play of 6 on Team Canada.  With one minute left in the 3rd period, up in the nosebleed section where we were sitting, some young fans with Canada flags painted on their bare chests run down to the bottom and get the crowd to start chanting ‘we want Gold, we want Gold’.  And then our worst nightmare was realized.  With 25 seconds left in the game, Zach Parise of Team USA scores on Luongo.  I’ve never heard such a universal gasp and collective look of utter deflation, than the faces of my fellow Canadian fans.  We were going into overtime and Team USA could win Gold.  I remember someone saying in jest, “God, if Team USA wins, they’ll make another bloody movie about it.”

Before the overtime started, I told my niece who was sitting next to me wearing her Sidney Crosby shirt, that Crosby was going to score – he hadn’t had his moment yet.  I’m not a prophet, but hey I made a prediction, plus, I just like the charming/bashful (hockey God) kid.

sidney-crosby-golden-goalThe overtime period began and you could feel the anticipation in the air.  The fans were constantly chanting ‘Go Canada Go’ in support of our beloved team.  Would we pull it off?  I read the signs people in the crowd made like ‘Hockey is Canada’s game’ and ‘Gold Canada Gold’ and I was hopeful.  And then IT happened.  Seven minutes and forty seconds into the overtime period, Jarome Iginla shoots a nifty pass to 22-year-old Sidney Crosby and Crosby scores the ‘Golden goal’!!!  Canada is the Olympic Hockey Champion at Vancouver 2010.  The sound of triumph in the arena was deafening and I was high-fiving arbitrary strangers in animated celebration.  The players charged Crosby with congratulatory man-hugs and the entire audience started chanting ‘Crosby’ with glorious victory in their voices.  Because it happened in overtime, the moment was even more intensified.  I’ve never seen so many happy men in one place in all of my life.  It’s an experience I won’t ever forget.  We watched our team receive their Gold medals and stood with pride for a 5th and final time as an energetic audience stood to sing O Canada with honour in our hearts.

We finished Day 4 with the closing ceremonies at BC Place, which was a bit of a letdown in comparison.  For the music, I was disappointed that they didn’t get the Tragically Hip but Neil Young singing “Long May You Run” was the highlight of the closing ceremony and made it worth attending.  The tongue in cheek raising of the torch arm that failed during the opening ceremony was cute, but the moose, beaver, Mountie cheesiness is getting old.  I’d rather Canada be known for its strong economy, cultural diversity and sense of community rather than the moose and beaver, but hey, I saw Canada win 5 stupendous Gold Medals in 4 days so I have no complaints.  The street celebration on Robson and throughout downtown Vancouver continued until the wee hours of the morning as Vancouver’s Olympic hosting duties ended.

I also wanted to applaud Vancouver 2010 for some of their green initiatives.  Beer was bountiful at all the venues and always served in a biodegradable cups, public transit was readily available and reliable so very few people drove cars to venues, and even HBC was in on it with some of their Olympic merchandise made of organic cotton or recycled materials.  As for the waste, well, every waste receptacle included a section for recycling plastics and paper, as well as compostables.  I remember last year when I was in Disney World in Florida, they had trash cans everywhere but I had to walk for a mile to try to locate a recycling bin.  Composting hasn’t even hit the Disney agenda yet, and I would say they don’t make recycling convenient to anyone.  I’m pretty sure Disney can afford to offer composting and recycling at every waste receptacle but right now, they choose not to.  Kudos to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Committee (VANOC) who did everything they could to help minimize waste with multiple eco-friendly receptacles at every single Olympic venue.

I look forward to London 2012 (imagine the music talent at those ceremonies) and Sochi in 2014.  It may not measure up to Vancouver 2010, but I am a proud Canadian regardless of Olympic location and I truly admire the dedication and perseverance of every Olympic athlete from across the world.  I will just have to enjoy the Olympic experience for 2012 and 2014 from my TV set at home.  Go Canada Go!

Check out the youtube video below for Canada’s Gold Olympic moments. 

YouTube Preview Image

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