I love the Olympics. You may not and that’s okay. But I do. There’s just something about them that draws me in. It’s more than my love for sport and competition. It’s an indescribable feeling.
It’s the chill going through me right now after writing that introduction.
So, I ask that you bear with me as I bring that indescribable feeling to life.
Let’s go back to the year 2000. The Summer Olympics were held in Sydney, Australia. An overhead shot of the Sydney Opera House has been engrained in my memory ever since. It will never leave.
These were the first Olympics I was really invested in. I was 9-years-old and addicted to sports. I couldn’t be stopped.
I remember watching the triathlon on TV. There was a Canadian named Simon Whitfield competing. In the bike portion of the race, he was involved in a crash with a bunch of other racers. By the time he got to the third stage of the triathlon – the run – he was way back.
And then he wasn’t…
If I had to pick a moment when I first started cheering for the underdog, this was it. One by one, he passed the runners in front of him. All of a sudden he was in second (SECOND!) and blew by the runner in front of him. He was now in the lead and on the cusp of a gold medal.
What in the world am I watching?
I had never seen anything like it. His perseverance in that race has always stayed with me. I think that’s the root of the reason why I always get frustrated when I see athletes, or teams, give up before the end of their event/game.
To many, it may be a foregone conclusion that they will lose. But to me, you never know when a historical comeback might happen. Just give yourself a chance. Whitfield gave himself a chance.
Eight years later, Whitfield was running the triathlon again at the Olympics.
He was in fourth place with one kilometre (1000 metres) to go. I still remember sitting in front of the TV thinking, “He’s going to do it again. Oh my God, he’s going to do it again!”
And he almost did do it again. With 200 metres to go, Whitfield was in first place. But he had nothing left to give and was passed, leaving him with a silver medal.
Again, I was amazed.
Here’s a story on the opposite side of the spectrum.
At the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Canadian 100 metre hurdler, Perdita Felicien, made it to the finals. As one of the favourites, she occupied one of the middle lanes.
The race was only a couple of seconds old, when Felicien’s race ended. She ran into the first hurdle, bumped the runner in the next lane, and was out. I was crushed (as if my feelings mattered in that moment), so I can only imagine how devastated she must’ve been.
In 2008, she missed the Olympics due to an injury.
Fast forward to 2012. Alright, this is her year. Everyone likes a redemption story. This is it!
At the Canadian Olympic track & field trials, she false started and was disqualified. Done. No redemption at the Olympics. She didn’t make the team. That was it.
When an Olympic athlete wins, the entire country wins. When they lose, we feel their pain.
Heck, I still feel bad that Felicien hit that first hurdle in 2004 and never got back to the Olympics to redeem herself. Just not meant to be, I guess.
In 2002, the Canadian men’s hockey team won gold in Salt Lake City. Admittedly, I didn’t know where Salt Lake City was. It wasn’t until a few years later that I actually put it all together that the Olympics were held in Utah. Utah! That’s the United States of America! Who knew? Not me.
I was in Grade 5 at the time and my classroom was in a portable outside. Canada had a round robin game during the afternoon and all of a sudden, that was all that mattered.
We got a TV, hooked up some pipe cleaners to it, and voila, we had a cable connection. I still don’t know how we did it, but the hockey game was on at school and we were watching it instead of doing work. I didn’t ask questions.
Everyone arranged their chairs around the TV and watched the game. If that isn’t Canadian, I don’t know what is.
Eight years later, in 2010, I’d be in university, once again watching the Olympics at school and arranging my chair to get the best view.
In the cafeteria, the school set up a huge screen which showed the Olympics all day, for 17 days. The Olympics were held in Vancouver, you bet we were excited.
For two and a half weeks, we all sat on one side of the table, to ensure we didn’t have to turn around to see the screen.
One by one, people would trickle out until it was just me and a friend still sitting there watching the Olympics. Our food would be finished in 10 minutes, but two hours later, we were still there watching figure skating and talking about glitter.
No stone was left unturned when it came to discussion topics.
Those moments – from 2002 and 2010 – stand out to me because of how they brought people together. Even people who didn’t like sports were watching the Olympics. It just felt like we were one team.
And when you’re in a school setting, you don’t always feel that. Everyone has their own friend group and is sitting at their own table, or off doing their own thing.
But the Olympics brought everyone together, even if it was temporary. I liked that feeling.
I guess that brings me to this year. The 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to these Games. I had done the math and figured out that most of the events would take place while I was sleeping.
I’d have to record everything and watch it the next day. That didn’t excite me.
Sports are meant to be seen live! That’s why they’re fun. When you know how it ends, there is no nervousness at the start of a race. There is no anticipation for the judges score. There is no optimistic voice in the back of your head saying, “We have 10 minutes to score one goal, we can do it!”
So I was fully expecting not to care as much as I normally do. I was expecting to feel empty.
I was wrong.
Let me start with Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir – Canada’s favourite couple, who aren’t even a couple. I only found that out two weeks ago. Ever since 2010, I thought they were dating, and sometime in the last eight years I guess I had expected they had gotten married.
Nope. Just friends.
But man, their ice dancing performances made me feel things.
Here’s the thing, every four years I get way too worked up over figure skating. Short track speed skating is my favourite event, but figure skating pulls on my love for drama in sports.
Also, I can’t understand how they jump and spin so many times in the air, but never get dizzy. I’m enthralled by the whole thing.
And what is even more mind-boggling to me, is the commentators ability to analyze a spin, seconds after it’s performed. Excusé-moi? I don’t even know what I just saw. Do their eyes see things in slow motion?
Then again, I feel the same way when the snowboarders and skiers are doing their tricks in the air. I’m being told what they did before they even land.
Unless the commentators have a script telling them what the athlete is planning on doing. Hmm…maybe that’s it.
Back to ice dancing, though. Virtue and Moir were not only the flag bearers for Canada, but they won two gold medals and Moir turned himself into the local ambassador for Canadian hockey fans. He played the part well.
I don’t think this country loves them because they were successful, I think we love them because of who they are and how they made us feel. Then again, the gold medals don’t hurt.
To team sports now…
The Canadian men’s and women’s curling teams always dominate at the Olympics. However, neither team is coming home with a medal this year.
It’s a shock, absolutely, but I’m not going to go on Twitter and insult them, like others have. I don’t see the point in that. I watched the games. Both the men and women did everything they could to win. They just didn’t.
Both teams looked crushed. You could see how much this meant to them.
I feel as though we’ve gotten to a point where some Canadians don’t know how to deal with losing because it’s something we haven’t done a lot of when it comes to team sports at the Winter Olympics.
Take the women’s hockey team, for example. They’ve won the gold medal in the last four Olympics. This year they lost to the USA in a shootout.
Yes, the shootout is a terrible way to end an Olympic final. But both teams had to do it! There was a bit too much blaming of the shootout format for my liking. It made us sound like sore losers. Hey, it was an even playing field. We lost. That’s it.
As for the men, NHL players weren’t there. Canada lost to Germany in the semi-finals.
All of a sudden, the commissioner of the NHL – Gary Bettman – is trending in Canada and is being blamed for Canada’s loss to Germany. What? The country has gone mad.
Last time I checked, the game started 0-0. The team Canada put on the ice was capable of winning that game. They didn’t. That sports.
This whole argument of, “If we had NHL players…” is dumb to me. Sports don’t exist in the “If” world because games aren’t played on paper.
There is this tendency for fans to predict an outcome based on the facts they have, rather than waiting for the actual facts to present themselves.
See Simon Whitfield, Triathlon, 2000.
There is nowhere to hide at the Olympics. The world is, literally, watching.
These athletes dedicate years of their lives to being the best they can be, all for a few days at an event that happens every four years. As a viewer, I don’t see everything they go through to get there. I just see the final result.
More importantly, I see how they react to success and failure.
Most of the time, the reaction on their face says it all.
Football players are happy to score a touchdown and baseball players are happy to hit a home run, but their emotion doesn’t make it all the way through the television set.
With Olympians, it feels different. It looks different.
The women on Canada’s hockey team were crying as they stood on the ice waiting for their silver medal. None of them wanted it; they all wanted gold. One player took her medal off after receiving it and was criticized about it, to the point where she had to issue an apology.
Personally, I didn’t have anything wrong with her taking her medal off. It’s not like she threw it away. As viewers, we always see things done in a split second and misconstrue it to mean a million different things.
“She doesn’t respect the Olympics.”
“She’s disrespectful to the South Koreans.”
“She’s a sore loser.”
“She should be grateful she got to represent her country in the first place.”
Geesh. All she did was take a medal off her neck and now she has to issue an apology to satisfy all the people who assumed it meant something horrid? Come on.
It’s a shame all these experts in their living room have to make her feel even worse for not winning gold.
I’ve seen that too much these Olympics. If social media were this prevalent in 2004, would Canadians be tweeting Perdita Felicien words of encouragement after hitting the first hurdle, or would they be mad at her for failing?
Probably a bit of both. That saddens me.
As the 2018 Winter Olympics come to a close, I anticipate the final video montage to encapsulate everything I felt during the last 17 days.
As the music plays and the images move across the screen, I’m sure I’ll feel that indescribable feeling once again – the one that reinforces my pride as a Canadian, while reminding me that the Olympics are more than just a sporting event.
Because at the end of the day, I’ll remember so much more than who finished in first, second, and third.