Sunday, February 14, 2010


A theme which I have referred to many times here is that of community.

What makes a community?

One of my best friends came here from the Island for a few days once, a guys' weekend. As we took a break from carousing and wandered through our little neighbourhood I was greeted by neighbours and owners of local businesses and he turned to me and remarked that Toronto was unlike everything he had thought it was. It was intensely local and friendly and compact.

Toronto is made up of many tiny communities, just as Vancouver and Montreal and Halifax and Winnipeg and Edmonton and New York and London and Dublin and Berlin and every other city and town in the world is. Just as Canada is.

Its shared goals and beliefs, shared values and geography and history that make us what we are but the ties that bind, more than anything, are shared experiences. Its what has passed in our lives that defines us, shapes our families, our friendships and our communities more than or as much as anything because even in our tiny neighbourhood there are people who have come from everywhere in this wide wide world, people of different faiths, if any at all, wealthy and poor and those in between, those for whom family defines their lives, those who believe in enjoying the little things, those who believe in giving to those around them, those who believe in the pursuit of wealth, those who believe in the creation of art. Indeed our little community is made up of hundreds and hundreds of individuals, each completely different.

And yet we pull together, as one.

The Olympics can piss us off. The money and made for television sports, the ridiculous media hype (btw if you are on Twitter follow Randy Starkman, the Star's reporter who follows Olympic sports all of the time, not just every four years; Randy, unlike CTV or so many others out there, will give you the straight dope on what's happening, more than any reporter out there he understands what its all about and when the hype is over the top), the slimy Olympic and sporting honchos, who, for example, blame a young man's death on him, rather than taking any responsibility at all, the enormous cost to the public purse.

And in the end, its all worth it. It really is. Cut through the layer of greasy fat and get to the heart of the matter, to the celebration of sport and youth and country, and its all worth it. Watching youngsters, for the most part anyways, competing, striving to be the best that they can be, succeeding, sadly sometimes failing, putting the thousands of hours of hard work and preparation on the line, there's nothing better. Nobody takes shortcuts in the Olympics and the margin between a medal of any colour and not being on the podium is miniscule.

And this experience brings us together. Twenty six million Canadians watched the Opening Ceremonies, which I loved by the way, although the whole Gretzky in a pickup truck was absolutely bizarre. Almost that many watched the Salt Lake City gold medal hockey game, I don't know a single person who did not and I remember a shot of Yonge Street during the game, you could have fired a cannon the length of it and you would not have hit a soul. And when Sakic put the game away I, sitting on my couch in our little apartment in midtown Toronto, teared up, just as I had when the women had won a couple of days earlier. And when the final buzzer sounded, the roar from the streets outside and out in the hallways as people rushed out to celebrate.

Even as I watch television today, Walter Gretzky being interviewed and Fernie, Emily Brydon's home, also home to my aunt and uncle, even the damn Tim's commercial where buddy welcomes his wife and children to Canada with a coffee and parkas, in some cases its something we all know, sometimes just what I know, sometimes experiences that I have not had but others have had.

Things that ties us together.

Just as Barbara Ann Scott and Nancy Greene and others were the heroes of previous generations so do certain names stir me. Boucher, Gartner, Percy, Bedard, Auch, LeMay Doan, Baumann, Davis, Bernier, Tewksbury, Bailey, McBean and Heddle, Hughes, Heymans, Whitfield, Shewfelt, Verbeek, Cockburn, Igali, Van Koeverden, Klaussen, Montminy, Heil, Leuders, Cochrane.

The list is endless really and after these games other names will come to me when I think of what I have seen and experienced and some of those names will be ones that inspire you and that you remember and this will be something that brings you and I and all of us, people who have never met, people who live all over this wonderful country, these names will bring us together and help make us, well, us, as weird and crazy as that sounds.

If you were to ask me who my favourite Olympian is I would have to say Beckie Scott and here is why. My Olympic experience is different from many of you, especially those who are younger, because when I was growing up Canadian medals were rare. The whole idea of a jinx for Canada on Canadian soil is silly because it was a different era. Canadian athletes won very few medals in those days anywhere, never mind in Canada. Our teams were small and poorly funded and unprepared. Against the Eastern Bloc sporting machinery and the countries who cared more than we did, we were fodder. Our swimmers were strong and our skiers as well but other medals were few and far between.

And then things began to change. In 1984 we set a record, easy to do with no competition from the East, but overlooked in the excuse making by the media was the fact that men like Alex Baumann and Victor Davis were world champions and world record holders and they crushed all comers in those days. They expected to win and they did win and all of a sudden a slightly different attitude began to take hold. We began to find sports that we could build powerhouses in and suddenly we were the premier rowing team in the world and then our speedskaters, inspired by Boucher, began to make the world stand up and take notice.

Success breeds success and so in Olympics after Olympics we win medals in those sports and in kayaking and in short track and the freestyle skiing and the sliding sports and wrestling and watch in ten years when a generation inspired by Kyle Shewfelt begins to make its presence felt on the world stage.

So why Beckie Scott? Well before Beckie Scott, cross country skiing for Canadians was a death valley for results. Placings in the fifties and sixties and seventies.

And suddenly here comes Beckie Scott and not only does she win a medal but she wins a gold medal. She stands up for herself and for her country and for competing properly and cleanly. And then in Torino there are more medals for Canada in a sport which used to be a wasteland for our country and its Scott and Sara Renner with a silver and a relative unknown, Chandra Crawford, with a gold.

And I will bet that in the years to follow there will be others, inspired by Scott.

She's my favourite Olympian. Your mileage may vary.


Loxy said...

Damn it BD, now I'm weeping.

PDO said...

What was buddies name who gutted out the medal in the marathon in Beijing?

I never got to actually see it (damn IOC and their copyright laws...), but really wish I had...

Black Dog said...

The triathalon, do you mean?

Simon Whitfield. Won a gold in Sydney but his silver in Beijing is probably my favourite Olympic moment ever. Amazing amazing finish.

PDO said...

That would be the one.

I'm a sucker for grit, what can I say?

Really annoys the hell out of me though that I can't find the video.

Black Dog said...

That was the greatest, I'm sure you've heard tell. He's in fourth, looks right out of it. I turned to Jenn and said something like ' aw fuck, he's done', he was losing touch with the leaders.

And then he flips his hat off and just takes off. Blows by all three of them but the race was about twenty five metres too long.

Hard to believe there's no way to see that on video.

Brad said...

BlackDog - you have the exclusive on Live from the Athlete's Village in Vancouver.
If you think that watching it is something, being here is a whole other world.
Jean Cretien stopped by today, Arnie, yesterday.
I took my son to meet Walter Gretzky Friday morning. It didn't quite work out the way I wanted but Walter was Wally. He was getting hustled to the bus by the torch team and he stopped everyone. A woman had a Canadian Flag, it was trailing on the ground. Wally stopped everyone to point it out to the woman who promptly picked it up.
Many surreal moments, and 3 times a day I walk by flags at half mast, a sad, quiet reminder of how these games started out.
The hockey players move in over the next day and a half...things are getting fun!

mattwatt said...

Mr. McLean, I will give you all the inside info I can on my week in Vancouver starting this upcoming Friday. My best mate, who was at the moguls last night, says the city is unreal, surreal, a setting like any other. Oh, and lots and lots and lots of female companionship! Think I may be rocking the cowboy boots and hat for a few nights (what can I say, chicks dig cowboys).

Although Becki Scott grew up a whole 20 minutes from me (I: Kitscoty, Alberta; Becki: Vermilion, Alberta) my favorite Olympian is Duff Gibson. Man did every sport he could, in the pursuit of an Olympic medal. It was not until he was 39 that his mission became successful. Oh, and he did it with a great sense of humility too. Class act all the way.

It is his story that makes the dark side of the games all worth it.

Krazy Rick said...

Some of my earliest memories of watching sports as a child are of my family sitting around the TV, in the livingroom, cheering on Canadian atheletes competing in the Olympic Games.
My father would always tell us they were the true atheletes. They did it not for money, but for their love of sport and competition and for their love of country. That facinated me then, as it does now.
I have always been excited to watch the Games, but now, I'm a little like you... excited, but tear up when I see something that tugs at the heart strings.
I am so proud to watch Canadian atheletes compete and when they win a medal, well, I just about burst with pride!
During the opening ceremonies, I convinced my kids to sit for 5 minutes and watch what was happening. They both love sports and it didn't take long before they were enthralled with what they were watching. Did my heart good to see them get more and more excited as the show unfolded.
Yesterday, there were four screeming people sitting in front of the television cheering on our long track skaters and howling at the guys on the moguls circuit!
That's the Olympic spirit, cheering on our atheletes for the love of sport, competition and country!!
Reminds me of something.....

Black Dog said...

mattwatt - ah yes, I loved Duff Gibson as well, he was the firefighter skeleton guy, right?

Thanks for that and thanks Brad and Rick as well, please feel free to come by and tell any stories you may have over the next couple of weeks.

Josh said...

There's not much to put Vermilion, Alberta on the map, but Beckie Scott is about as good a representative as you can get.

Great work on Olympic posts, BD. I love the games, so many great stories, tragedies and triumphs all mixed together.

Ricker airlifted off the course in 2006, wins gold this year. Amazing.

Anonymous said...

FYI that Becky Scott picture was blocked by my adult content filter at work!