Look on the bright side

By RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency


Alex Bilodeau played a great role as Canada's first home gold medal winner. Former Canuck, aka Mr. Grumpy, Dale Begg-Smith was a perfect foil for the elated Canadian at the medal ceremony. (QMI AGENCY photo)

VANCOUVER — Sure, Vancouver’s start to its Olympics looked a lot like Canadian speed skater Jeremy Wotherspoon stumbling from the gate, circa 2002 in Salt Lake City.

There have been some IOC and VANOC ball droppings — the cauldron malfunction, transportation headaches, ticket snafus, the luge tragedy, protests, Cypress Mountain — that have prompted the presumptuous British press to already declare these the “worst Games ever.”

But one week does not an Olympics make.

Already at the halfway point, there have been a number of moments that inspire and amaze, confuse and infuriate — from Alex Bilodeau’s historic first Canadian home gold to moguls teammate Jenn Heil’s silver medal by a sliver.

One thing can’t be argued: Vancouver and Whistler have embraced these Games.

The city and mountain is alive.

The United States’ NBC-hyped rock stars — snowboarder Shaun White and pin-up downhiller Lindsey Vonn — have performed to expectations.

But they aren’t the biggest stars here. Not by a long shot.

It’s every Canadian athlete who enters the field of play and gets blown away by the support. They hear a roar unlike anything they’ve experience before.

It’s new. It’s great. It takes a while to get used to.

“It’s overwhelming,” figure skater Patrick Chan said. “I’ll never forget the fans here in Vancouver.”

It’s the rise of a new sporting attitude in Canada. Polite is nice. But loud is proud.

And these Games, no matter how the second week turns out, will leave this country changed.

1. FIRST GOLD

The Canadian Olympic Committee couldn’t dream up an athlete like Alex Bilodeau to win the first Olympic gold medal on home soil. He’s humble, his older brother Frederic (who has cerebral palsy) is inspiring and he took down grumpy millionaire and former Canadian Dale Begg-Smith in the moguls.

2. THE GEORGIAN LUGER

Hours before the opening ceremony, Nodar Kumaritashvili died in a crash during a training run. It put a major damper on the start of the Games and forced the “world’s fastest” luge course to be altered.

3. CAULDRON LIGHTING

One of the indoor Olympic cauldron’s four hydraulic arms didn’t rise out of the B.C. Place floor at the opening ceremony. It became an international embarrassment. Then, Wayne Gretzky was shipped in a pickup in the rain to light the outdoor cauldron, which was surrounded by a chain-link fence that kept fans far away. Yeesh.

4. THE CROWDS

Canadian athletes can’t complain there’s no home ice and snow advantage. It’s Go Canada everywhere. The support has been stunningly un-Canadian. When short-tracker Charles Hamelin won his ‘B’ final, the roar was as if he won a medal. He finished seventh.

5. THE WEATHER

The “moment” was seeing a fleet of dump trucks, in sunny and 10 C temperatures, delivering snow to not-very-white Cypress Mountain. These are the Winter Games, right?

6. HOMETOWN GOLD

It’s one thing to become the first Canadian woman to win an Olympic gold at home. It’s another when it’s really at home. Maelle Ricker, the snowboard cross champ, hails from Vancouver and put a golden face on the Games for locals.

7. RED AND WHITE

You haven’t lived until you’ve seen American snowboard sensation Shaun White rock a Double McTwist 1260 on the halfpipe. White has two gold medals, he’s perfected the two board-over-his-red-head flips nestled in three-and-a-half turns — and ask anybody in the sport: he rules.

8. QUAD KING DETHRONED

Elvis Stojko thinks it’s the downfall of figure skating. American Evan Lysacek, sticking to triple jumps, beat Russian returning king Evgeni Plushenko, who makes the quad look easy. Lysacek said he went for “the complete package” in his program. Plushenko’s response: “Evan needs a medal more than I do. I hope there are more quads.”

9. THE BAY

Want a pair of those red mittens everyone’s wearing? Want the same black hoodie Patrick Chan shows up in all the time? Get ready to stand in line for an hour at The Bay’s Olympic Superstore in downtown Vancouver. And once you’re in, it’s a feeding frenzy to find something before it’s out of stock.

10. THE HOCKEY

When the Canadian men’s hockey team plays, the city stops. Those who are out and about gather around big screen TVs to watch. Can the Canadian players feel the pressure on them? Sure looked like it against the Swiss.

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca

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