February 27, 2006
Athletes held spotlight
Rather than go overboard, Turin let athletic performance shine.
KATHY RUMLESKI -- London Free Press

TURIN, Italy -- Simple yet classy.

The XX Winter Olympiad could be called the Homespun Games. What you saw was what you got in Turin.

While the locals welcomed the world and made us feel at home, they didn't go overboard, as happened in the past with colossal Olympic Games.

The Italians let high-level athleticism and top-conditioned competitors speak for themselves. Thanks for that.

It was hard to escape the commercialism completely, though, in Turin -- once the capital of the Republic of Italy. But one could step back in time and forget the event while admiring centuries-old churches and castles and squares.

Canada took its place in history here, acquiring the most medals our country has ever won at a Games, with 24 -- seven gold, 10 silver and seven bronze -- and finishing third overall behind Germany and the U.S.

Another 13 Canucks had fourth-place finishes.

"The team had a fantastic Games," said Shane Pearsall, the Canadian chef de mission.

"There's a new set of sports heroes in Canada that the youth can see."

Cindy Klassen, the most decorated Canadian in Olympic history with six medals, and Clara Hughes, now with five, were the story of the Games.

The speed skating queens showed that true competitive spirit and love of sport has kept the modern Games going, 110 years later.

They combined for seven medals here.

Hughes is also the only athlete in the world to win multiple medals in both the Summer and Winter Games.

Inspirational. Sensational.

There were a number of other momentous Canadian performances, including that of Chandra Crawford. The Canmore, Alta., woman came out of nowhere on the Pragelato tracks and on the world cross-country skiing radar to capture gold in the sprint.

She used the power and magic of the Games to get the most of out of her body and mind. That's what the Olympics can do for an athlete.

"Very simply, Olympic Games are the most important competition of your whole life," said Paolo De Chiesa, who competed for Italy in alpine skiing in 1980 and 1984 and who worked as a broadcaster during these Games.

The Canadian women's hockey team's repeat gold was expected, yet somehow refreshing after the fiasco of the men.

The men's team bowed out in the quarter-final with a 2-0 loss to Russian.

They took up too much ink anyway.

While Canadians were excited about the prospects for two gold medals for both the men's and women's hockey teams -- both defending Olympic champions -- amateurs winning gold is a much better story.

Pearsall believes freestyle aerialist Jennifer Heil's moguls gold on the first day of competition was the defining moment for the Canadian team.

It sure set the tone, anyway.

"It's like getting a goal in the hockey game in the first minute," Pearsall said.

The long game is now over. Italy said "arrivederci" to the world last night in a festive closing ceremony that seeped with merriment and nostalgia and saw the Olympic flag handed to 2010 Vancouver organizers.

The Italians get back to normal today. But they continued to simply live their lives throughout the Games, letting the ebb and flow of the Olympics surround, but not drown. Nothing much will change for them.

It's not so hard to say good-bye. It's easy to say "grazie" for the experience.

Ciao, Torino.