The Winter Olympics in Vancouver are Over :(

VANCOUVER SUN

Source taken from the Vancouver Sun

With the cheers of a gold medal hockey victory echoing across Canada, the XXI Winter Olympiad ended Sunday in a celebration of national pride.

The flame was extinguished in downtown Vancouver, the athletes packed to leave and a country went to bed feeling more important than it has since Lester Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize for solving the 1956 Suez Crisis.

Sidney Crosby had staved off national humiliation in overtime and made it official - these were Canada's Golden Games.

It was a fitting if harrowing end to the 17 days of competition, the Winter Games that re-defined a nation. Gordie Howe, Michael Bublé, William Shatner, Bryan Adams, Neil Young, Mark Messier, Mike Weir, Donald Sutherland, Wayne Gretzky - a plethora of Canadian-born superstars were on hand to bless the transformation. This is a nation reborn, a country that has forged a new identity.

The 3-2 hockey win over the U.S. was only the icing on the cake. These were Canada's Games and if there were doubting Thomases at the beginning, they were nowhere to be found last night. Where were those rent-the-podium Yankee taunts when Crosby stuffed home the winning goal?

Whither U.S. swimsuit superstar Lindsey Vonn with her broken finger, or was it a fingernail? Only her entourage knows for sure.

No longer will they sneer Canadian bacon? Poutine?

Syrup-sucking Iceholes, Great White Hosers and Saskatchewhiners rule!

The country heretofore defined as so polite even its buses arrived apologizing - "sorry, full" - stood up and said just because we're polite doesn't mean we're pushovers.

Canadians won the most golds. Fourteen! The most ever by any country. Ever! We are the champions of these Olympics. As hosts and competitors. Canadians!

These were the most watched, most talked about, the best attended and the most participated Winter Olympics in history. Television ratings were through the roof and Internet traffic was off the scale.

"The People's Games," many said.

By any measure of popularity and interest, the XXI Winter Games were a humungous success. Far beyond expectations. Crowds, throngs, multitudes surged through the city spontaneously breaking into heartfelt if off-key versions of O Canada. After Sunday's emotional hockey win, the entire downtown was flooded with patriotic hordes.

The only riot though was an explosion of daffodils, snowdrops and cherry blossoms detonated by the warmest February in a century. It was a glorious end to 17 days of make-believe.

The opening had been inauspicious with the tragic death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, the kickoff ceremony blemished by malfunctioning hydraulics, the flame held hostage behind a chain-link fence and the balmy weather wreaked havoc on the mountains - disrupting event schedules, eroding spectator seating areas, forcing 28,000 ticket cancellations.

A slow start by Canadian athletes evoked anxiety and hand-wringing. But they came through in the end reaping an unprecedented harvest of 26 medals - more even than the 24 garnered at the 2006 Turin Games. The final weekend was full of sparkling victories that long will be cherished.

Consider the moment when thousands of fans crammed into the Vancouver Olympic Centre on Saturday spontaneously began roaring O Canada. You knew Edmonton skip Kevin Martin had led his curling team to victory. After more than two decades of campaigning on ice sheets around the globe, from the dark days when curling wasn't even a Winter Games sport, Martin had triumphed. It was a sweet, sweet moment for the man who finished fourth at the 1992 Albertville Games, when the sport was introduced as an Olympic event."Finally!" he rejoiced. "It took a long time, a lot of years. [But] the hard work was worth it."

Canada continued its amazing finish throughout the weekend.

Denny Morrison, the 24-year-old from Fort. St. John, led the ice-skating pursuit team to gold for a measure of revenge after he faltered earlier in the Games in his individual specialty. "It was cool to be able to come together after a rough week with no medals for any of the men," Morrison said. "To come away with gold as a team, there's no better way to finish off the Olympics for us."

Jasey Jay Anderson, the veteran snowboarder who returned to competition for these Olympics for the same reasons as Martin, was similarly elated though he tried hard not to show it. He knifed his way through blowing snow and typical wet coast conditions to win gold in the parallel giant slalom. The 34-year-old from Mont-Tremblant, Que., a four-time World Cup champ, Anderson had competed in every Olympics since the snowboarding event was added at the 1998 Nagano Games. But he had failed to finish higher than fifth. "We can't base our life, our career, on one medal," he said after his win. "It wouldn't have been the end of the world if it eluded me again. I was getting used to it." The smile pasted on his face belied his modesty.

All of the memories were gilded - Devon Kershaw, the 27-year-old from Sudbury skiing his heart out and earning fifth place - not even a heartbeat out of medal position in a 50-km marathon! Who did not feel like crying with him? Or the poignant skate by a motherless waif, Joannie Rochette? Have you ever been so moved? Together with Slovenia cross-country skier Petra Majdic, who fell breaking several ribs but still managed to win a bronze medal, Rochette was awarded the Terry Fox Award for her courage and perseverance. Their example was what the Olympics are about. Gold, to be sure, but more than anything else they are about heart, hearts of gold.

There were many new inductees to Canada's pantheon of heroes, their triumphant moments will live forever in the country's collective memory: Alexandre Bilodeau with his red-mittened brother cheering wildly, Jon Montgomery with his jug of beer, Charles Hamelin and double silver-medallist Marianne St-Gelais kissing passionately, ice-skating dancers Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue embracing tenderly, bobsleighers Heather Moyse and Kaillie Humphries grinning from ear to ear, Christine Nesbitt's stunned surprise, the women's hockey team with their wine and cigars ...

What can we say? Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah. Ashleigh McIvor said she came to these games to fulfil her destiny. She did with gold.

So did Canada.

A nation was asked to believe. It did. And its faith was rewarded: 14 gold medals, 7 silver, 5 bronze.

That's right. Canada won 14 gold. More than any other country. Ever.And in doing so it stood up loud and proud. As the Prime Minister said, a defining moment in this nation's history. But enough said. After all, we are still Canadian.

imulgrew@vancouversun.com

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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