Mon, August 25, 2008

Left with their memories

Steve Simmons, Terry Jones and Rob Longley tell us about their favourite Olympic moments from Beijing.

By SUN MEDIA

STEVE SIMMONS

You remember Wayne Gretzky not shooting in Nagano?

You probably don't know about Mia Santoromito shooting at the Summer Olympic Games here.

This is, in fact, the very power of the Olympic Games: a sport you don't care about, and countries you have no interest in, can you pull you in and drag you along for a most emotional ride.

It happened to me in water polo of all things. Women's water polo, bronze-medal match. Don't laugh.

Oh, it would be easy to say Usain Bolt's assualt on the record book in the 100 and 200 metres were my favourite moments of the games.

Those races were that defining and that unforgettable.

But there was something about this Australia-Hungary match that i just can't let go of.

It started when Rebecca Rippon scored with seven seconds left in the fourth quarter to send the game to overtime. That was exciting enough. Then the game went to over time. Then another overtime. And then -- you haven't lived until you've seen this -- a shootout in water polo.

The first shooters for both countries didn't score in the five-shooter format. Then Hungary took a one-goal lead, Australia tied it. Then Australia went up 2-1 in the shootout and Hungary tied the game. With the fifth shooter to go, Santoromito of Australia bounced the ball off the water into the top corner to give the Aussies the lead.

The final shooter for Hungary was Rita Dravucz, a two-goal scorer in regulation time. She, too, tried to bounce the ball hard off the water and past Emma Knox in the Aussie goal. But Knox lunged -- as much as you can lunge in the water -- and dived across to stop Dravucz's shot.

It was something to see, something to remember: a 12-11 victory for the Australians.

Upon the final save, the Aussies, celebrating the bronze, which isn't normally much of a reason to celebrate, jumped into the pool en masse after the final shot and pulled their ecstatic coach Greg McFadden into the pool, clothes and all, for the ride. Everyone stood and applauded. The scene and the drama was that engaging.

Might have been that way in Nagano too, had Gretzky been given the chance to shoot way back in 1998.

TERRY JONES

No matter where you went after Simon Whitfield's amazing race in triathlon, it seemed every Canadian I met wanted to stop me to testify that it was their favourite moment of these Olympic games.

It wasn't a gold medal like in his stunning win in Sydney in 2000. It was more what he did to manufacture the moment which came so close to duplicating that moment.

Maybe it was that Whitfield was already a Canadian icon and didn't have to do it or go through it the way he did at the site 20 kilometres

from the Great Wall of China at the Ming Tombs Reservoir, which if you were there, was so spectacular that it added to the entire experience as well.

Whitfield, I maintain, authored another go-for-glory story which deserved a special place in Canadian Olympic history even if it was silver. He had to pour more into getting this medal than he did to win his gold.

After running in a lead pack of four on the last lap, Whitfield fell off and looked to be out of the medals when he looked at his handlebars and brought on the will from within to not only reel the leaders back in but also to make a move into the lead heading down the final few metres.

"When I ran my way back in, I had this moment. I wrote on my handlebars today 'sing like Adam Kreek.' He's our men's eight rower who bellowed out the national anthem during the gold-medal ceremony. It flashed through my head. 'Sing like Kreek, buddy.' And

I thought; Let's take off. Let's go. And I tried. i tried hard," Whitfield said.

With all of that, i think the freeze frame moment for me was Colin Jenkins, the Canadian who sacrificed himself to set the pace on the bike passing the big video board at the same spot the Canuck scribes were located.

Way back in 50th place at this point, he pointed to the screen and almost looked like he was going to put on the brakes and park right there with us to watch. Whitfield had just shifted it into overdrive just like he did in Sydney to take the lead as Jenkins passed the giant screen.

"Oh, my God, I wanted to stop and watch the rest of the race. I was so close to stopping. I really didn't care about the rest of my race. It was so exciting," Jenkins said.

ROB LONGLEY

Adam Kreek was on a mission.

He had just won a gold medal that was eight years in the making and wanted to share his joy with friends and family rooting him on in the stands.

Trouble was, overzealous Chinese security wouldn't allow Kreek to walk beyond the dock to do it, so he jumped into the weedy water of Lake Shunyi and swam to shore.

He didn't make it all the way, but with the gold medal in his mouth, the pictures of his attempt will be among the most enduring of these games from a Canadian perspective.

So too will the performance of the men's eight -- the boat known in rowing circles as the heavyweight because it often features a nation's top rowers. The reigning world champions made up for the crushing blow of 2004 when they finished fifth and were part of Canada's big medal rush at the midpoint of the games.

When Simon Whitfield won his silver medal in the men's triathlon a couple of days later, he credited the drive and desire of Kreek -- not to mention his post-race reaction -- as a prime motivator for his own performance.

My silver medal of personal experiences speaks to the joy of the host nation.

And an almost nightly walk across the wide concrete square outside the Bird's Nest where several nearby buildings were lit up making quite a feast for the eyes.

And finally for the bronze, we go to a special dining experience on the night before the closing ceremony.

At a local restaurant, we had the good fortune of getting a table beside classy Canadian rhythmic gymnast Alex Orlando and her family.

Though she didn't qualify for her final, which was taking place that night, Orlando was soaking up every drop of her Olympic experience event and even took time to sit down at a table with three Sun Media scribes to offer her recommendations from the menu.

The girl, like so much about these games, had impeccable taste.

MEDAL COUNT

VOICES FROM THE GAMES