Whistler provided plenty of memories

By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

WHISTLER, B.C. ó Hard to believe in a village near perfect in its setting, so winter in every way save for the lack of fresh snow, that this is where the Games would be lost for Canada.

From before they began to the last event, Whistler had moments to make Canadians cringe.

What began with death ended with the crushing disappointment of the feel-good story of a legally-blind Canadian being denied a chance to race.

In between, the home team won just four medals, all of them at the controversial Whistler Sliding Centre, a venue that will leave a lasting stain.

All was not doom and gloom, fortunately. There was a week of brilliant sunshine and blue skies to show off the postcard views.

During that run, the best Canadian moment in the coastal mountains took place when the ultimate bon vivante, Jon Montgomery, won the first medal, taking gold in menís skeleton.

Who can forget the image of him marching through the throngs on the Village Stroll of Whistler, pitcher of good Canadian draft in hand. If not for the tragedy and heartache surrounding it, Montgomery might could have been the lasting image from here.

Sadly, tragically, there was no chance of that happening. When young Georgian luge slider Nodar Kumaritashvili died following his horrific crash during training the day before the opening ceremony, the reaction alternated between shock, sadness and outrage.

The young manís death and its cause was impossible to shake.

In the womenís luge, several athletes were in tears in the starting hut, fearing for their health and their lives. The Canadian team was outraged that their home-track advantage was destroyed when officials over-reacted and shortened the starting point for both the menís and womenís races.

In the supposedly macho world of menís four-man bobsled, a crew from Netherlands withdrew because they could not shed their fears.

At least Canada found its way to the podium at the bottom of the Blackcomb Mountain track. Montgomeryís gold came just two hours after Mellisa Hollingsworth, who was heavily favoured in the womenís race, had a terrible final run and skidded from second and a shot at gold to a dumbfounding fifth.

It was tough to top the gold-silver exactor of Canadian women in the two-man bobsled, the first real occasion where the home track advantage paid off for Canadian sliders. Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse took the top spot followed by Helen Upperton and Shelley-Ann Brown.

The rest of the Whistler-area venues were a Canadian wasteland.

Alpine Canada, which had boldly predicted three Canadian medals, had to watch as its athletes didnít get a sniff of the podium for the fourth consecutive Winter Games. Adding to the stench was the fact that Norwayís Aksel Svindal, who was denied access to the Whistler Creekside course by the Own The Podium officials, got a golden laugh when he won the menís downhill and a silver one in the Super G for good measure.

Finally, for most of the Games, Whistler Olympic Park was a predictably quiet haven. Nothing was expected from ski jumping and biathlon and the menís cross-country team put on a respectable show with a number of top-10 performances.

But the cross-country venue was in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. The Canadian coaching staff embarrassed themselves and all athletes who wore the Maple Leaf in these Games when they denied legally blind skier Brian McKeever the chance to race after hyping the historic significance of the prospect for more than a month.

His teammate, Devon Kershaw, had the race of his life, finishing fourth, just 1.5 seconds shy of gold in a performance that otherwise would have been applauded. Like too many of the good things that happened here, itís sadly not a moment that will top the memories.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

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