Monday, February 25, 2002
All's well that ends well
By STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun
SALT LAKE CITY -- The official document of the Winter Games was a protest. The official face of the Games was that of a complaining bureaucrat.
It didn't seem to matter the nationality. These were the equal opportunity Olympics. Everyone bitched.
These were the Games of disagreement, 17 days of whine and roses, providing an otherwise uncomfortable backdrop to an Olympics where sport too often took second place on the podium to circumstance.
These also were the "Welcome to Salt Lake and How Do You Like Us So Far?" Games. You knew that because every morning and every afternoon at the Games, a smiling volunteer, uncertain about how you view this rather odd place, would happily ask, "How do you like us so far?"
The people were fine, wonderful, until the riots of the final weekend. The volunteers were friendly and helpful, hard-working and organized. The place? Well, put it this way -- the mountains are pretty and the weather, it couldn't have been better.
But when most Olympics come to an end, there is something of an emotional parting when the world packs up to go home. There are memories and moments to carry with you, just not from here. People just want to go home.
There have been few Olympic Games better organized, better supervised, and more efficiently operated. The Salt Lake organizers should be so proud of how they made the most difficult sporting event in the world work. But they just couldn't change Salt Lake. And these were an Olympics without feel, without texture, eerily without joy.
These were the Convenience Store Games. Everything was efficient and available, it was just lacking in ambience. Every venue took on the feel of an NBA halftime show, too blaring and too full of orchestrated noise while lacking in Olympic touch. These were the noisiest Games ever.
Games that Jamie Sale and David Pelletier will never forget and we won't allow them to. The pair of Canadian figure skaters came here hoping and expecting a gold medal, left here with gold, and in between became the most talked about, most interviewed and most photographed athletes in the world.
They were the winners and the losers of the protest Games. They won their gold and lost a piece of their freedom. They became the faces everybody knew, the magazine cover shot all over the world, Jay Leno's most frequent guest. They had their 15 minutes of fame and then took up just about everybody's 15 minutes along with them.
"Everyone was put on earth for a purpose," Eric Lindros, the hockey player, once said. "Mine was to sell newspapers." Sale or Pelletier couldn't have said it better themselves. By the end of a frenetic Olympic Games they had won silver, gold, and the world's hearts.
"I hope we get the bronze, too," Pelletier said jokingly after getting the gold medal. "So we get the entire collection."
If Sale and Pelletier won the gold for pairs skating and publicity, the silver goes to International Skating Union president Ottavio Cinquanta, who became a household name for his place in the skating controversy of Salt Lake and his unintentional impressions of Inspector Clouseau.
That Cinquanta's face was better known by the end of the Olympics than Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, the Norwegian biathlete who captured four gold medals, says much about the texture of the two weeks in Salt Lake City. There were complaints about scoring in the pairs competition, the dance competition and the women's singles final. And under Cinquanta's reign fell short track speed skating, that strange little sport, where protest is an inevitability.
The Canadian Olympic Association will call this the best Winter Olympics Canada has ever had and it has the numbers to prove it. Seventeen medals by Canada is two more than Nagano, two more than ever before, but two fewer in the department of gold and silver.
And almost all of the medals came in a frantic last few days. For the first week of the Games, the best performances in Salt Lake by a Canadian were by Catriona Le May Doan, Roots, and the Barenaked Ladies. That was before Marc Gagnon became the most decorated Winter Olympian in Canadian history and Clara -- not Sarah -- Hughes became the first Canadian to win medals in both Winter and Summer Games.
The memorable Canadian moments away from the hockey arena were few. There was Le May Doan winning gold, Sale and Pelletier skating perfectly, Veronica Brenner and Deidra Dionne finishing 2-3 in aerials skiing.
Then, there were the stunning disappointments.
The fall and fallout of speed skater Jeremy Wotherspoon. Two curling rinks winning medals, neither of them golden. The much-touted snowboarding team barely placing, let alone finding its way to the podium.
And then there was the hockey ... starting with the stirring victory by the women's hockey team, beating the unbeaten Americans and a pro-American referee for its first Olympic gold medal. When the celebration began, Hayley Wickenheiser, the player of the tournament, went straight for her little boy, rather than in search of gold.
And then yesterday, Team Canada's stirring 5-2 win over Team USA in the men's hockey final, an exclamation point to end the latest chapter in an ever-developing rivalry with the hockey power to the south.
You see so much at an Olympic Games, so much of it unforgettable. Scenes and stories that unfold without warning or expectation.
From the purely personal Olympic file, there were so many moments, a scrapbook of memories from around the world.
There was the face of teenager Simon Ammann, the fresh Harry Potter lookalike, at the bottom of the ski jump, staring at the scoreboard with disbelief. He didn't believe what his eyes were telling him, didn't believe he had jumped that far.
And when he realized it was so, and he had his first of two gold medals, he let out a scream, his arms went in the air, and two of his teammates jumped on him and the three began to roll around in celebration in the snow.
SALO A POSTER-BOY
You can't invent this kind of picture, the kind only the Olympic Games seems to deliver.
And there was another picture and another face that cannot be easily dismissed. The face of Tommy Salo, with swollen eyes, and a crooked mouth, trying to explain how it happened, how a puck shot from a world away wound up ending Sweden's hockey dream. The Olympic poster-boy of the shocked and the defeated.
In between, the Americans did less chest-thumping and more reserved celebrating than had been witnessed before. They had a spectacular Olympics in their own country, almost tripling their previous best medal haul with heart-warming performances by figure skater Sarah Hughes and third generation Olympian Jim Shea and snowboarder Chris Klug, who came back from transplant surgery, and with a moment of historical significance, the bobsled gold medal of Vonetta Flowers, the first African-American to win any medal at any Winter Games.
The gold medal for charm, as usual, went to the Australians, who won two more gold medals than they have ever won before. Short tracker Steven Bradbury was about to finish last when everyone in front of him crashed and he stepped around the accident to win his race. Alisa Camplin, the aerials jumper, was a former gymnast who had just learned to ski, and learned to land just in time to win the first event of her career, Olympic gold.
The Games of Salt Lake City began 17 days ago with all kinds of fears about security issues and doping problems and the difficulty of finding a place to drink here. In the end, security was omnipresent, but not the armed Olympics that many had forecasted. And the drug scandals that have been so front and centre in past Games almost were afterthoughts here, at a time when testing is more vigilant than ever before. The Canadian controversy was like most of them here, about judging, not drugs.
The concerns coming into the Games about Salt Lake City as a place to visit, with its odd drinking laws and Mormon ways, seemed to break down as the Games went on. The rules changed depending on almost each establishment, some of the pretense broke down, until the Saturday night before the Games, where there was some kind of rioting in the streets after a Budweiser establishment stopped serving.
They closed the Olympics last night with skating from Kurt Browning and singing from Bon Jovi, Harry Connick Jr. and Christina Aguilera, and the great parade of athletes saying goodbye. The goodbyes for Canada come from the Olympians who we won't see on this stage anymore: Elvis Stojko, Le May Doan, Susan Auch, Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz, Edi Podivinsky. Maybe Sale and Pelletier. Goodbyes and thanks.
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2002 Games Columnists