A Canadian milestone

A chapter in Canadian Olympic history
Turning the pages of Canadian Olympic history
Olympic flame burns red and white
Nationalism at an all-time high
Olympic patriotism burns on

Do you remember where you were on February 28? At, say, 5:53 PM?
Of course you do. You were at a bar, or watching a big-screen in somebody’s basement, or at the very least you were clued in once the entire outdoors erupted in spontaneous cheering and horn-honking.
You’ve replayed it in your mind dozens of times already, with full knowledge that there are hundreds more to come: Jarome Iginla, having had his legs taken out and with only a split-second to spare before plummeting uselessly to the ground, managing a desperate pass just in front of the net. Sidney Crosby, having somehow cycled halfway across the ice, finds himself in the only position where he could possibly receive the puck and effortlessly one-time it into the net. And he does just that, forever cementing his legacy as the first great Canadian hockey player of the 21st century.

Instantly, you knew that this was a moment for the history books, a moment that you would never forget. What might not have occurred to you was that Crosby’s goal was by no means the beginning of that moment – nor would it be the end.

Did the moment start the night before, when Kevin Martin’s curling rink beat the argyle pants off their Norwegian opponents to win gold? No, it had to have been before that. Maybe that afternoon, when Jasey-Jay Anderson’s snowboarding gold medal came within minutes of Canada taking top spot in the mens’ speed skating relay?
Still too soon? Perhaps on the 26th, then, with two short-track gold medals and a hard-earned hockey semifinal victory over Slovakia? Or the day before, when we won gold in womens’ hockey and Joannie Rochette captured the most meaningful bronze medal in Canadian history?

It could have been any of these days – though my pick goes back just one more day, to Wednesday February 24, when things finally turned the corner for Canada – two medals in speed skating, followed by the most humiliating defeat Russians have ever been handed on a hockey rink, followed immediately by a gold and a silver in womens’ bobsled.
It doesn’t really matter. That’s the thing about Canadian spirit – you don’t notice it when you get it, but you know when it’s gone.

In this case, it left everybody at pretty much the same time – right after the closing ceremonies. The wrap-up show was a necessity – not just for Olympic commitments, but for the Canadian psyche. We celebrated Crosby’s goal, we poured out into the streets and high-fived total strangers… but then we had a few hours to go off on our own, to eat dinner or whatever. The hockey game was great, but it wasn’t going to get us to quit feeling proud cold turkey. We needed closure. We needed something to bring us down off our patriotic high, but slowly.

The closing ceremonies accomplished that. We got to laugh – first at those who ridiculed the malfunction of the opening ceremonies, then later at ourselves as we wholeheartedly embraced our stereotypes. We were lulled back to apathy by dull speeches and unknown national anthems. Whatever Canadian spirit may have remained after that was extinguished during the final concert, consisting as it did of increasingly bizarre band choices.

Finally, the Olympic cauldron was extinguished – and with it, the last vestiges of Canadian mega-patriotism.

Much like McLuhan declaring “the medium is the message” or A.A. Milne’s son convincing his father to write about Winnie the Pooh, this will become a part of Canadian lore – for many people, myself included, the first such communal experience we can call ourselves a part of. It will live on longer than any of us – Canada’s greatest Olympic moment.

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