A curious sight greeted me this morning. There was vehicular traffic on all of Vancouver’s downtown streets. It hasn’t always been this way — certainly not for the past seventeen days, and definitely not a dozen hours ago. Olympic revellers laid claim to our streets last February 12th and, as long as the Olympic cauldron was burning, there would be no claiming them back. I’d witnessed crowds those first 16 days that were unlike anything I’d ever imagined. And just when I’d finally grown accustom to the daily insanity, mega-mania arrived on the 17th day.
On the afternoon of February 28th, in the final event of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, the Canadian men’s hockey team beat the USA in a nail-biting, overtime gold medal game.
The city erupted. 35 millions Canadians, who had been holding their breath throughout the two week Olympic hockey tournament, exhaled simultaneously. For anyone who doesn’t live here, Canada’s obsession with hockey can be hard to fathom. If this country was a living organism, hockey would be its heart. It’s a home grown sport that touches everyone who lives here. Canada is a nation of immigrants, but hockey unites us all. It’s a passion that welcomes everyone and excludes nobody. It doesn’t discriminate by age, nationality, religion, race, nor political view. The United Nations can only dream about this kind of harmony. When this country grants you citizenship, you must swear to uphold the principles of democracy, freedom and compassion. And this you do — through hockey.
A restless and nervous energy permeated Vancouver on the final night before the gold medal game. Canada had set the record for most gold medals won by a single country in the Winter Olympics. In much of the world, this would be cause for euphoric celebration. Canada shrugged. Sure, it was proud of its athletes and their accomplishments. But, wired to the polygraph and feet to the fire, it would be a rare Canadian that wouldn’t trade every one its 13 previous gold medals for just one — hockey gold.
At 2:13 am, I looked out my window and down onto Granville Street. Ten hours before the big game, and the streets were buzzing with an anxious vibrancy. No one wanted to go home, much less go to sleep. Inspired by Josef Koudelka, I pulled out my iPhone (I don’t wear a wrist watch) to help document the moment.
Thirteen hours later, the population of Granville Street had increased fifty-fold. Canada had just won 14 gold medals. But the several hundred thousand people who had gathered on the streets of downtown Vancouver were celebrating only one.
It had been eight years since Canada’s last Olympic men’s hockey gold medal and, for the next 12 hours, those eight years of pent-up tensions flowed onto the streets of Vancouver — grannies high-fived skate punks; cops hugged stoners; alcohol-fueled atonal renditions of “O Canada” filled the air as the shrill squeal of air horns kept a tenuous beat. It was a glorious time.
In the early dawn hours of today, March 1 — the morning after the Vancouver 2010 Olympics came to a close — puffy eyed revellers shuffled aboard transit trains, busses, ferries, and automobiles. They returned to their cubicles, offices, and stations — a touch hungover, but still full of that golden glow of Olympic victory. The previous day’s elation has carried forward, but it’s now tempered with something faint, yet onerous — a worrisome realization that it’s only four more years until Sochi Russia hosts the 2014 Winter Olympics, and we’ve got a hockey gold medal to defend.
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