February 27, 2006
New inspiration
Maybe hockey horror was a good thing; winning 24 medals a triumph
TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

TURIN, Italy -- It was one last chance to kick the hockey team.

One medal short. And it was hockey.

"We came into this thing thinking we'll have the big four in the bag and we only got three," said Canadian Olympic Committee CEO Chris Rudge of two hockey and two curling medals.

"One more medal from the sport Canadians have the greatest passion for ..."

Hockey would have done it. Hockey would have allowed Canada to reach the goal of 25 medals at Torino 2006 instead of ending up one short at 24.

Instead of one last kick at the hockey team before heading out of here, I suggested to Rudge at Canada's Games-ending evaluation press conference that maybe Wayne Gretzky's gang not making the medal round was a good thing for sport in Canada.

Maybe because of what happened here, we took a large leap toward growing up as a sport nation. Maybe there's more to us heading home from here than a bunch of puck heads. Maybe we can celebrate four medals on the same day we're holding a funeral for our hockey team.

MAKE CANADA FEEL GOOD

Maybe any Olympic Winter Games in which Canada doesn't win gold in hockey isn't a lousy one. Maybe Cindy Klassen, Jenn Heil, Chandra Crawford, Duff Gibson, Brad Gushue, Clara Hughes, and the women's hockey team and all the rest of the successes can make Canada feel good about itself, even without a hockey gold.

"You know, on the day the hockey team lost and we won four medals, I was worried about three pages of coverage in the newspapers of why we lost in hockey and no coverage of our best day at the Olympics. I was pleasantly surprised it didn't work that way," said Rudge.

Seven gold. Ten silver. Seven bronze.

Canada won more medals in more sports than any other country. We also had more fourth-place finishes than any other nation.

Much was made of Canada's pathetic conversion rate of 27% of athletes and teams ranked in the top three at Salt Lake 2002.

These Olympics there were 57 of those to convert into medals and 22 converted. That's 39%. Throw in Chandra Crawford's gold in cross-country and Anouk Leblanc-Boucher's bronze in short track - two medals which came out of nowhere - and you could make a case it was 42%.

That's where Canada succeeded at these Olympics - not with our position in the medal standings or the number of medals.

Winning seven gold medals didn't do it. Canada won seven gold in Salt Lake and six in Nagano. There's no improvement there.

And going from 17 medals to 24 represents a smaller jump than it appears if you consider four of them came from new events. And all those fourth-place finishes - which jumped from 11 to 13 as the Olympics concluded - kind of devalued some of the success we did enjoy. To think what could have been.

"We have to look at what we could have done to give more help to those athletes who finished fourth and fell short," said Rudge.

But on a bigger picture, to win 24 medals was a triumph. At the first Winter Olympics I covered in Sarajevo, we won four medals. At Calgary '88 we had five but no gold.

SUCCESS STORY

Yet Calgary '88 was a massive part of the success story here. Fifteen of those 24 medals came out of the legacy of those Olympics and the hot-housing of our cold-weather athletes.

Canada become a legitimate Winter Olympic force here - as we should be for a country with more square miles of snow than any other on the planet.

As the host nation heads to Vancouver 2010 - after becoming the only country to host Olympics of both the summer and winter varieties without winning a gold medal in either - that isn't likely to happen four years from now. In fact, that's where the focus will go from here, not so much to bring up the medal total dramatically but to bring up the gold medal total, said Rudge.

Gold medallists inspire youth and create dreams. And from Jenn Heil on opening day to Clara Hughes to close, Canadian youth had inspiration galore from these Olympics.

"Having Heil win a gold on the first day is something we've never had happen at the Olympics, summer or winter, before," said COC president Mike Chambers.

"And that last lap of Clara Hughes, that unbelievable last lap, then falling on the ice, leaving nothing in the tank ..."

That's the real success of what happened here. These Olympics produced more inspirational stories, more memorable moments and more Olympic dreams than any other in history for Canada.

And we didn't even make the medal round in hockey.